Archive for July, 2011
YATES: Satisfying characters and visuals, but with a rushed ending
Marvel Comics completes its stable of films that will result in next year’s “The Avengers” with “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Many early reviews by critics hail the latest Marvel offering as the best one yet. I read my fair share of comic books as a kid but have since forgotten most of the details, so I brought along a Marvel Comics expert to weigh in on the post-film discussion. AMC only offered the 3D version in Quincy (more on that later), so I donned my Woody Allen-inspired 3D glasses and let my inner patriot fly in this week’s film review.
After four failed attempts to join the military during World War II, diminutive Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, “Fantastic Four”) is finally given a chance through the government’s Strategic Scientific Reserve program, led by German defect, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, “Easy A” ). Rogers’ genuine character and intellect leads him to be chosen as the candidate to receive a serum meant to create a genetically enhanced soldier. Initially misused by the government as a poster boy for the war, Rogers — now dubbed “Captain America” — takes matters into his own hands in an effort to rescue his best friend from the clutches of Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, “V for Vendetta”), the leader of Hitler’s HYDRA weapons program. When Red Skull turns on Hitler and begins building an army of his own, it is up to Captain America and his band of soldiers to save the U.S., and perhaps the world, from utter destruction.
Director Joe Johnston (“The Wolfman”) does a masterful job of filling “Captain America: The First Avenger” with empowering messages meant to inspire the everyday person. This is possible largely because Rogers is the most down-to-earth character of all of the recent Marvel super heroes — and he stays that way once becoming Captain America. Tony Stark is an egocentric billionaire playboy. Thor is a Norse god. Bruce Banner is a likable guy, but who can relate to a gamma ray green giant? Rogers was selected to become a super hero because he was just a normal guy with great character. The film is action packed with a great mix of camp and feel-good moments.
Kudos should be given to the trio of Casting Directors — Sarah Finn, Randi Hiller, and Priscilla John — for a superb job in casting the film. Evans shows his range playing the opposite of his “Fantastic Four” Johnny Storm character. Hugo Weaving, perhaps more well-known for his voice work (“Transformers” Megatron) is pure evil as Red Skull. Relatively unknown Hayley Atwell shines as Captain America’s love interest. Much of the film’s comedy relief comes from an unlikely source in Tommy Lee Jones.
I’m an admitted foe of 3D, and this film is a prime example of why. Sure, there are a few scenes here and there where it is noteworthy — Captain America does love to fling his shield, after all — but overall the 3D detracts from one of the film’s best qualities — the mise-en-scene. With a backdrop of World War II, the set design is a brilliant combination of period-themed earthen shades and futuristic industrial designs. It is the manpower and sheer will of the United States vs. the cosmic cube-powered technology and evil machinations of Red Skull. The HYDRA army attire is an eerie and ominous combination of black leather robes and masks. The glasses and distracting 3D imaging diminishes the mise-en-scene to something of an afterthought.
I asked my Marvel Comics expert what he thought afterward, and he explained that “Captain America: The First Avenger” does a great job of blending the different comic versions of Captain America into one. He pointed out that the original Captain America comic costume appears in the film when Captain America is on the road promoting war bonds and entertaining troops. He also noted some subtle nuances — like when Captain America’s best friend Bucky Barnes flashes some super hero-like reflexes of his own in battle. In the Marvel world, Barnes goes on to become a super hero himself as the Winter Soldier, and eventually takes the place of a deceased Steve Rogers as Captain America.
The one critique I have of the film is the big finish — or lack thereof. The resolution feels rushed. I think Johnston does a bit of a disservice to the film as a standalone, instead tying it in with the next Marvel film. After investing more than two hours in the emotional story of Rogers, the denouement is hurried into a convenient package to prep for “The Avengers.” While “Captain America: The First Avenger” didn’t quite defeat “Iron Man” as my favorite super hero film, it comes in a close second. Despite the 3D annoyances, the film offers a deep storyline, tremendous visuals, and sets the stage for the long awaited Avengers movie. Also be sure to stick around until the credits end for a sneak teaser at “The Avengers.”
WIEGENSTEIN: An honest core of emotion for “The First Avenger”
There’s a moment in “Captain America: The First Avenger” that has been seen many times, in many movies like it: Our protagonist speaks with a respected elder and is given the nugget of advice that will guide him through both the film and his hero’s journey. Here, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is on the eve of transforming into a superhuman model of American perfection thanks to the aid of a scientist played by Stanley Tucci, who reminds him that he was singled out due to the good heart and strong character that will soon lie beneath 200 pounds of muscle.
Luckily for everyone, it’s advice that the movie itself takes seriously — beneath the requisite explosion-laden trappings of a big-budget action flick is an honest core of emotion that strengthens the plot more than a mighty shield could ever hope to.
To say Rogers is a weakling at the movie’s start is an understatement — his list of ailments practically fills a full page of his U.S. Army recruitment form, rendering him unfit for service all four times he attempts to join up. Plucked from the proverbial heap by Tucci, however, his dedication immediately sets him apart, and ultimately leads him to become the ultimate American, fighting against a force even worse than the Nazis. Led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, doing the correct amount of scenery chewery), HYDRA is more hardcore than the Third Reich, and ten times as deadly.
Of course, the Captain America of the comics was created in the midst of World War II’s patriotic fervor — one memorable cover pictured him walloping Hitler himself. I worried that Steve Rogers would prove to be little more than a hollow shell wrapped in stars and stripes, but luckily the film is canny enough to address the Cap’s initially-ridiculous roots as he finds himself being trotted out by senators to do nothing more than sell war bonds as a walking billboard. Surrounded by high-kicking pinup girls, he punches out faux-Hitlers in cities all over the country, but it’s clear that this will be never be enough for him. (Special commendation for being able to laugh at the hero’s original costume, which gets a coolness upgrade later in the movie.)
A couple of tiny plot threads are introduced and almost immediately vanish — it’s hinted that Steve inherited his hero complex in part from his father, for example — but this is ultimately for the best, as the narrative is better when its pathos moves forward, rather than lingering in the past. Likewise, it comes as a relief when Steve finally obtains the action-figure body he was meant to have — the early scenes of Chris Evans being digitally shrunk never quite escape a Gollum-esque creepiness.
Having previously excelled in embracing the character of “handsome villain,” Evans proves himself to be a solid choice for the Captain, managing to maintain the air of a dweeb within a body he’s still learning how to use. And in Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), one can see why he’d be completely floored at times. She’s not only a “beautiful dame,” as Steve points out to continue in the film’s vernacular, she’s one tough broad, capable of taking out a soldier with a punch rather than a high heel.
The supporting cast is somewhat hit-or-miss, with Sebastian Stan’s loyal BFF and Tommy Lee Jones’ gruff army boss (surprise, surprise) being the strongest of the bunch. The Howard Stark portrayed by Dominic Cooper is bland, though — the verve and charisma that his son will grow up to have obviously wasn’t inherited from this guy. On the dark side of things, Toby Jones has the unenviable task of having to play a nebbish against the over-the-top evil of Red Skull, and comes across as a massive time suck on the plot.
Unsurprisingly, “Captain America” goes all-out in its embracing of the 1940s action movie style, complete with immaculate costuming and an emphatic Alan Silvestri score. Like “X-Men: First Class,” the other superhero flick to flash back in time this summer, Johnston pays tribute to all the prettiest parts of the era, in both tone and on-screen detail.
As the title clearly points out, “Captain America,” even more than “Iron Man 2” or this summer’s earlier Marvel flick “Thor,” is intended as a giant ramp-up to next year’s blowout “Avengers” movie. Without delving into spoiler territory, the movie begins and ends by explaining just how a guy in the 1940s can wind up fighting alongside the heroes of 2012. But this tale of “The First Avenger” is a well-crafted film in its own right, and more than enough to bridge a year-long gap in classic Marvel output. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t strongly advise you to stay until the credits finish rolling, though.)
YATES: Charm of ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ lies in characters
Anna and I take on a bit of a different approach in this week’s blog. The final installment of the Harry Potter series inspired a split review of the first and last movie in the series — believe it or not, I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter movies (I’ve been waiting to read the books first). This past weekend, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” shattered box office records — including $43.5 million in midnight ticket sales, $168.6 million weekend ticket sales in North America (breaking “The Dark Knight’s $158.4 million) and an astounding $476 million in worldwide weekend ticket sales. I conjured up my inner wizard to go back in time to 2001, when the first of J.K. Rowling’s novels — “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — was brought to life on the silver screen.
Directed by Chris Columbus (“Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”), “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” introduces us to the orphaned Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), destined to become a great wizard. Once rescued from the neglectful care of his Aunt and Uncle, Harry joins fellow wizards-in-training Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) at London’s Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Famous for staving off an attack from the dark wizard Voldemort as a young child, Harry has no problems integrating into his new home. However Harry’s world is turned upside down when Lord Voldemort returns in search of a magical stone hidden within Hogwarts that can give eternal life. With the help of his new friends, Harry must fulfill his destiny and face Voldemort one more time.
With a runtime of 152 minutes, the film has to cram in a lot of information to set the stage for the world of Harry Potter. The movie moves a bit slow in the beginning as a result of this, however once Columbus establishes all the players and locations, the pace begins to pick up. Though the ending feels a bit rushed, character and story development throughout the entire film set up the sequels quite nicely, without the need of a cliffhanger.
The great thing about creating a fantasy world full of magic and wizardry is anything goes. This rings true in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” as the mise-en-scene is sensational. Hogwarts home base of a castle leads to all sorts of interesting locations and detailed sets that feature a mix of medieval flair with wondrous items such as floating objects and animated painting on the walls. The downside is that once in a while it comes off as overkill with the telling of a complex story combined with constantly changing elaborate locations.
The real charm of the film lies not with the story but with the characters. Radcliffe shines as the astute young wizard, and I hope he isn’t typecast after such a long run as the Potter character. Watson and Grint play contrasting sidekicks to perfection, and the three share an obvious chemistry. Robbie Coltrane will easily win you over as Rubeus Hagrid, the affable mentor to Harry & Co., giving them just enough information they need to face the next challenge.
After finally entering the world of Harry Potter, I have to say I’m glad I did and plan on sticking around for more. I’m going to begin by reading the first novel to see how it compares to the film, and go from there. There are so many directions for the franchise to go – from riffs among rival young wizards at Hogwarts, teased heavily in the first film, to a possible return of Lord Voldemort — I’m sure Rowling and Warner Bros. team of screenwriters have much more in store for Harry and his faithful companions.
WIEGENSTEIN: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2′ provides visual, emotional moments fans want
In a summer that’s chock-full of sequels and series-installments, the air of finality “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2” brings with it is vastly satisfying. Further chapters in the “Avengers” saga are already in varying levels of production, “The Hangover 3” was confirmed almost immediately after its successful opening weekend grosses — but this is the honest-to-god end of something for once.
I, myself, am part of that special group able to claim a particular kinship with Harry and company — I was 11 when the gang entered Hogwarts, and remained a devotee until picking up my Book Seven at a midnight Barnes & Noble event at age 20. And while my true adoration of the story came to a close upon shutting the book four years ago, I appreciate the hyperbolic description of this film being “the end of an era.” So, I’m happy to report that while “Deathly Hallows” is far from flawless, it provides both the visual and emotional moments fans have been dying to see, and sticks the dismount.
The odd pacing of JK Rowling’s novel was only highlighted by the division of “Deathly Hallows” into two films, with Part 1 focusing on the half-enjoyably-atmospheric, half-dull gallivant by the Trio into a vast expanse of gloomy woods. And while this build-up was far too much to try and cram into a single feature, it did make for awfully staid viewing. Likewise, the second half of “Deathly Hallows” follows the book in being all-action from start to finish – largely a good thing, in that it makes the moments of calm and quiet twice as meaningful.
Harry (Dan Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are united once more after having their friendships nearly fractured beyond repair in “Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” Their quest to kill — or be killed by — Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is ending where things began, at Hogwarts, in a battle that stretches for half the film’s runtime. Their friends and family fight alongside them; some even fall.
After being plucked from the (relative, particularly this side of the Atlantic) obscurity of UK television, director David Yates maintains the solid tone he’s built throughout the final half of the film series. It’s a style that manages to combine the best elements of the earlier directors — Chris Columbus’ reverent visual treatment of the Hogwarts universe, Alfonso Cuarón’s willingness to darken the story’s tone, and Mike Newell’s fondness for including spot-on teenage snark and emotional fumbling — with a knack for efficient storytelling. In the hands of another director, we might still be awaiting the series’ close four more years from today.
I dearly wish they could chop the opening raid of the wizarding bank, though. Rowling’s plotting makes this impossible, but onscreen it does little but eat up 30+ minutes of time that could be given to any number of cooler things — perhaps a little bit more time spent with the highly-touted roster of Hogwarts faculty. It’s a crying shame that after Emma Thompson became the airy-fairy Professor Trelawney everyone hoped for, she’s seen for only a fleeting second in the midst of battle.
Of course, over eight films, the “Harry Potter” franchise has racked up about 90 percent of Britain’s acting talent — long goodbye scenes for each of them are impossible. Each makes their very most of the time given to them, with Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman relishing every line. More importantly, this finale is the culmination for the three young performers at its heart. Radcliffe proves himself a worthy center for a decade-long film franchise, ultimately arriving at the emotional pinnacle of the series and nailing it.
“Harry Potter” is a world so immersive and wide-ranging, people have created an entire theme park without having to add a thing to J.K. Rowling’s original blueprint. It could easily last twice the time as the films have been around, and deciding how to cap it off is no easy task. But “Deathly Hallows” is fortunate enough to be under the control of a skillful director and an excellent cast, both of whom guide the series to a close with all the care an audience could ask for.
YATES: Subtlety key ingredient in ‘Horrible Bosses’
When I first saw the trailer for “Horrible Bosses” I thought to myself, good film but terrible name. It seemed rather uninventive in the age where studios spend more on the advertising for a film than they do actually making it. Little did I know that the somewhat inconspicuous title was a precursor to a theme of the film – a unique blend of slapstick comedy and understated yet crafty dialogue delivered by a versatile group of veteran actors. The end result is a memorable romp in the lore of Hollywood’s workplace comedies.
Three friends find themselves in similar situations – completely miserable thanks to terrible bosses – all unable to simply quit their jobs for various reasons. Nick (Jason Bateman, “Hancock”) is an overworked employee for dastardly company president Dave Harken (a brilliantly cast Kevin Spacey) who promotes himself to Vice President of Sales despite dangling the promotion in Nick’s face for months. Dale (Charlie Day, TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) is a dental technician constantly sexually harassed by evil succubus dentist Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Kurt (Jason Sudeikis, “Hall Pass”) continues working for eccentric cokehead Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell) in order to prevent the firing of his co-workers. Desperate to find a way out of their hopeless situations, they turn to a “murder consultant” (Jamie Foxx) in order to eliminate their bosses for good. Of course, what do three middle-aged working class guys know about murder? Very little, and expected hijinks ensue.
Subtlety is the key ingredient that makes “Horrible Bosses” a fantastic film – a rarity in a Hollywood farce. The plot is silly and the antics are expected, but director Seth Gordon (“Four Christmases”) wisely tones down the slapstick to just the right level. The film’s protagonists aren’t bumbling idiots but rather everyday working class stiffs embroiled in terrible work environments. Bateman and Sudeikis play grounded, sympathetic characters, and the idiot role falls to Day as a nice supplement rather than a feature. There are over the top moments – but they don’t fall one on top of the other and seem to hit at all the right moments.
The film features an ensemble cast devoid of a true “A-list” star – something that actually works in favor of “Horrible Bosses” as no one player outshines the other. Including the likes of Brad Pitt or Will Ferrell in this film would just throw the whole thing off kilter. The veteran Bateman turns in another solid performance (he’s really turning into the next Michael J. Fox) and SNL alum Sudeikis shines in his second leading role. Sudeikis is a pleasant surprise in a role where he doesn’t portray a fool and is allowed to show off his range and comedic timing. The big name actors (Spacey, Farrell, Aniston) play small supporting roles to the hilt as the malevolent employers. All three bring a large presence to the film in comparison to their limited screen time – especially Aniston, who shows a bit of a dirty side we’re not used to seeing.
Despite a predictable story, lack of star power and a relatively inexperienced director, “Horrible Bosses” is one of the funniest films you’ll see all year. The laughs are non-stop and I watched with anticipation to see what would happen next to the beleaguered trio throughout the film. I attribute the success of the movie to chemistry between cast members and hilarious yet not over-the-top dialogue – such as a casual conversation between Bateman and Sudeikis regarding who would be more desirable to other men in prison. The casting is near perfect as everyone nails their performance – from the leading men to the small roles such as Jamie Foxx as the murder consultant. And let’s face it – everyone can relate to this film as we’ve all had a horrible boss at one time or another in our lives.
WIEGENSTEIN: ‘Bosses’ ties for strongest group comedy of the year
There’s a heavy television presence behind the creation of “Horrible Bosses,” the latest R-rated summer comedy to come down the pike, both on-screen and off. Director Seth Gordon and the three-piece writing team of Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Michael Markowitz have credits ranging from work on “Parks & Recreation” and “The New Adventures Of Old Christine” all the way to “Bones” (interestingly, Daley’s break came as a character in the late, lamented “Freaks And Geeks”). Meanwhile, though it’s true that Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day and Jennifer Aniston have worked outside the small screen, they remain most notable for their work on well-respected ensemble comedies.
My point: the atmosphere of “Horrible Bosses” takes after these television shows in the best possible way – by creating a comedy that is perfectly structured by dividing both action and hilarity into equitable parts, and allowing the chemistry of the leads to take the wheel. And while Bateman, Sudeikis and Day aren’t necessarily working outside their usual respective roles as straight man, affable bad influence, and manic wild card, they demonstrate just why they’re so good at what they do.
Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) are all hard-working individuals – not only that, but they seem to genuinely enjoy the jobs they have. Sadly, any job morale they may have had once has been slowly worn away by the hateful individuals supervising them. Night after night, they commiserate over drinks, until each of them reach the point where Kurt’s suggestion that the boys ice the bosses actually begins to sound pretty good. (The plot’s debt to the 1951 classic “Strangers On A Train” is hilariously paid tribute to when Dale mentions “that famous Danny DeVito/Alfred Hitchcock movie.”)
From here, the film turns into a dark caper film, complete with accidental cocaine snorting and a Toyota Prius attempting a car chase sequence. Here again, it’s the three actors at the heart of “Horrible Bosses” that make fairly standard scenes of zany housebreaking seem fresh and funny – no matter how much of the dialogue Bateman, Sudeikis and Day may have improvised, both the writing and the performances (particularly the many perfect moments of timing) indicate just how comfortable the three of them are at working with other comedians.
Of course, it would be a crime to not mention the employers so terrible that their murders seem a reasonable course of action to the viewer. While Kevin Spacey slips into the skin of a corporate sadist with ease, both Colin Farrell and Aniston stretch themselves into a cokehead and a borderline rapist. Farrell is the weakest link in the cast, tipping his man-child character just over the line of ridiculousness, and in a movie where a hardened criminal makes reference to “Snow Falling On Cedars,” no less. It’s great to see Aniston escaping the romantic comedy hell she’s been (unsuccessfully) inhabiting for years, and her delight at playing a thoroughly despicable character is palpable.
With equally funny work turned in from supporting members from Jamie Foxx and Ioan Gruffudd (of all people!), “Horrible Bosses” ties with “Bridesmaids” as the strongest group comedy of the year thus far – a trend that I hope will continue for some time. Well, only if they’re all this good.
YATES: Bay fails to deliver character development
It’s hard to believe that in 1984 the Transformers debuted in the United States in the form of little plastic Hasbro toys and an animated television series. I’m sure Hasbro had no idea that the Cybertron robots’most profitable days were still 20-plus years away.
In 2007, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay teamed up to reboot the franchise as a live-action film with re-designed robots and an emphasis on humans. This summer the ‘bots are back for round three with “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Director Michael Bay said he wanted to focus on character development and storytelling for the third installment. Could the master of big budget flicks keep his promise?
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has finished college and fallen on hard times. Despite a college degree and a medal of honor from the President, he can’t seem to find a job. The Autobots and secretive military Nest team have moved on without him, and Sam is having a hard time adjusting to civilian life with new girlfriend Carly (British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley making her screen debut). When the Decepticons come looking for the remains of a crashed Cybertron-based ship on the moon, Sam is asked to join forces with the Autobots once again – this time to prevent the Decepticons from using what was on the ship to enslave humans and bring Cybertron to our solar system to be rebuilt.
Bay fails to deliver in his promise of more character development, and instead opts for the same formula used in the first two films. Bay also mentioned that this would be a darker film, yet the movie had more laughs than the summer comedy “Bad Teacher,” last week’s He Said, She Said review. I gave “Hangover 2” a pass under the rule of thumb of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – and I’ll do the same for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” While nobody in the film will win an Academy Award in the Best Actor category, the film offers two-and-a half hours of action and dazzling special effects that will keep you entertained.
The film’s exposition cleverly intertwines actual footage from the Apollo 11 lunar landing into the film to offer the sci-fi narrative a scrap of verisimilitude. The storyline takes us to some unique geographic locations, including Chernobyl and Afghanistan. New York and Los Angeles have to be considered the most widely-destroyed American cities in cinematic history, so it was good to see Chicago finally get its comeuppance as the new kid on the block to be demolished by aliens.
The regular cast of characters is back, sans Megan Fox after a well-documented spat with director Michael Bay. LaBeouf shines once again in the slick-talking, witty hero role – though his importance to the alien war is played up a bit too much in this installment. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to lead the human resistance, and John Turturro as Agent Simmons seems to get better with each film. Newcomers Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich breathe new life into the franchise, though I would vote for more Malkovich (who wouldn’t?).
Much like Transformers 2, the film seems to run a bit long, with a drawn out final battle. If Bay wanted more character development, he could have shaved about 20 minutes from the final scenes and offered up some meaningful dialogue to help viewers connect a bit more with the characters or relate to some of their dilemmas. It was fun to see what the screenwriters could come up with to create a third epic battle for supremacy among the alien transformers, and as far as that goes, I think they succeeded. What lies ahead for the billion dollar franchise is anyone’s guess. If I had to bet, I would say a prequel where we learn about the war that destroyed Cybertron. Sounds like a logical choice, as they seem to have the formula for the robots down – perhaps leaving humans out of the story is a wise choice for the next film.
WIEGENSTEIN: ‘Transformers’ is just plain boring
Here’s my initial remark about the “Transformers” series of movies, and “Dark Of The Moon” in particular: it’s not everyday that you can see the words “in association with Hasbro Toys” show up in the opening credits of a film. But given that about half an hour into any given flick in the series, the action devolves into a big-screen version of a kid clumsily smashing action figures together, it’s nothing if not fitting.
But what is director Michael Bay, if not the king of giant metal things running into one another? “Dark Of The Moon” (I assume Pink Floyd had complaints about them adding “side” into the title?) is the third in a still-continuing series, if industry word-of-mouth is anything to go by. And while numerous sci-fi/action genre films use the opportunity of a sequel to delve a little deeper into the emotionality of its characters (hence “Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men 2,” and “The Empire Strikes Back” being considered superior to their predecessors), Bay has inverted the model, dialing back all the humans as much as possible.
What little humanity remains is hardly anything to boast about – a vast amount of the humor in “Dark Of The Moon” derives from watching Shia LaBeouf, the ostensible star, be as big a loudmouthed moron as possible. He suffers, we chuckle. He goes up against Patrick Dempsey for the affections of his girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), and it’s hard to root for him even as Dempsey slimes up the screen (kudos to McDreamy for going full ham, however).
Oh, right, plot summary: the entire U.S. space program was ultimately centered around learning about/covering up the existence of a massive ship escaping from the Autobot/Decipticon battles of yore. It crashes onto Earth’s moon (no points for guessing which side), and begins yet another struggle between the two robotic groups. In the midst of all this inevitably lies Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), who begins the film whiny and ultimately needs nothing less than an intergalactic war to shut him up.
Veteran actors like Francis McDormand, John Turturro and my beloved Alan Tudyk (of the short-lived TV series “Firefly” and its companion film “Serenity”) seem stranded in the midst of all this, though they do their best at elevating the material given to them. McDormand in particular jumps into her role as a hard-nosed U.S. intelligence operative with an appropriate level of briskness, though at times it seems as though she might just be moving as fast as possible to extricate herself from the film. Huntington-Whitely is such a nonentity she’s hardly worth mentioning, aside from my surprise that she’s able to navigate a battlefield in what appear to be kitten heels.
The main flaw in “Dark Of The Moon,” however, is the kiss of death for a summer tentpole action movie: it’s just plain boring. The grand finale is a spectacle up to Bay’s typical standards, but there are at least three skirmishes in the lead-up, rendering the film a butt-numbing two-and-a-half hour slog. He’s always been among the most straightforward of modern directors – you’re never surprised by what you get in a Michael Bay film – and several shots in the film point out that he can indeed create beautiful imagery. But in a summer already populated by action films that manage to maintain a sense of interest and urgency, there’s simply no room for “Dark Of The Moon,” on this planet or any other.