While watching Michael Bay's latest gift to cinema, "Transformers," a quote from 2001's indie comedy classic "Ghost World" leapt to mind. While surveying the scene at a high school graduation party, Scarlett Johansson tells friend and fellow misfit Thora Birch "This is so bad, it's almost good." Birch counters with "This is so bad, it's gone past good and back to bad again."
Both quotes summarize "Transformers," a movie that teeters from being so bad it's good to being just plain bad. Yet, there's a surprisingly intentional, tongue-in-cheek aura about the movie that enables it to get away with over-the-top acting, hideous dialogue, bloated running time, persistent product placement and a plot stuffed to the brim with nonsense.
There's just no point in berating the film for being ridiculous and juvenile because it does, after all, star fluorescent computer-generated robots that change shape, fight each other and break stuff.
The plot -- not that it matters -- centers on star Shia LaBeouf, on his second step to superstardom (the first being "Disturbia" and the next being Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones 4.") LaBeouf is the fast-talking, nerdy high schooler Sam Witwicky trying to buy a car to woo the popular Mikaela (Megan Fox, looking vaguely like a darker-haired Lindsay Lohan.)
Sam's great grandfather accidentally stumbled upon a colossal robot frozen in an underground cavern while exploring the Arctic. The government has kept the discovery under wraps for decades, with the robot cryogenically frozen. When Sam innocently tries to sell his great grandfather's glasses on eBay to raise money, the events of the movie are put in motion.
Apparently, other giant robots have come to earth looking to reunite with the menacing Megatron (the frozen robot and the ringleader of the Decepticons, i.e. the evil robots.) But in order to take over the world, they need the glasses of Sam's grandfather. The lenses of the glasses contain the hidden coordinates of the all-spark, a giant cube encrusted with robot hieroglyphics that can transform all technology on Earth into more bone-crushing, person-smashing, evil-doing robots. The Decepticons need the cube to take over the world.
There's more. Much more, in fact. Enter the Autobots (i.e. the nice, humanitarian robots.) Led by Optimus Prime, a kind-hearted robot prone to making grandiose speeches, the Autobots have come to Earth to protect Sam, destroy the all-spark and stop the Decepticons, all the while serving as free advertising for GMC and Chevrolet.
The plot of "Transformers" is blatantly and gloriously awful. Is Sam's yellow Camaro guardian robot really named Bumblebee? Are there computer hacker girls who could also moonlight as models? Did President Herbert Hoover decide to build the Hoover Dam in order to conceal the imprisonment of a giant alien robot? And can the fate of the world rest upon an intergalactic Rubix cube Shia LaBeouf clutches like a college football player gunning for the Heisman?
The answer to all of these questions is a thunderous and resounding YES.
Interspersed with the LaBeouf story are less interesting scenes with Jon Voight as the Defense Secretary. Voight has hired a team of computer hackers (Rachael Taylor and Anthony Anderson) to try and determine how these robots have infiltrated the government's confidential files. These scenes are less interesting mainly based on the general absence of robots. The special effects in "Transformers" are state-of-the-art; easily the best of any film this year and essentially the only reason to pay the $9 to see it.
Bay ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor") knows how to direct a movie like this. Acton sequences are swift, thrilling and plentiful. Thankfully, Bay does not wait to show the robots to build suspense. Early scenes with the soldiers in the Middle East (including Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) give us a glimpse of the robots from the outset. The movie, despite its length, is paced well and builds up to the long-winded climax where the Autobots and Decepticons break a lot of stuff and destroy much of Los Angeles.
Still, action sequences (including the one in the Middle East with the scorpion-like Decepticon) are sometimes marred by Bay's frenetic direction and slapdash editing.
All critiquing aside, chances are most have already made up their mind to see "Transformers." But, unlike this summer's "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" though, "Transformers" has enough fun to sustain its running time.
Destined to be one of the summer's big hits, it's refreshing to be able to say it might actually deserve to be. Just make sure to see it in the theater, on the largest and loudest screen possible. There's no telling how bad the movie will be from the comfort of your own home. A not "so bad it's almost good" kind of a bad, either.