Saturday, July 16, 2005

Review: The Island (2005)

The Island
130 minutes
Rated PG-13

By Scott Mendelson

In this summer of remakes and sequels (to be fair, most of them thus far, like Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins, and the upcoming The Bad News Bears, are quite good), Michael Bay's The Island attempts to stand out as an original. It sells itself as an original and mysterious sci-fi fable about beautiful people in a strange place, with mysterious happenings, and the mysterious connection to 'the island'.

Of course, as fetching as the ad campaign has been, there's just one problem. The film is a blatant rip-off or un-credited remake of 1979's The Clonus Horror. I won't go into the details, as it would spoil most of the surprises of this rip-off/remake/unintentional homage. To be fair, I have not seen The Clonus Horror, and apparently it's good enough to have been featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. So, thus, let us judge this version on its own merits. And on its own merits, it can be judged very simply. The Island has a terrific first 70 minutes, followed by a monotonous, plodding final 60 minutes.

The plot, as much as I'm willing to reveal (less than the later trailers)... Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor, going through the motions save for one bit I won't reveal) lives in what is apparently one of the last two safe places on earth. According to those that run this safety zone, the rest of the earth has been poisoned by an unknown catastrophe. These survivors are educated, fed, clothed, and kept in absolutely perfect shape, under the idea that they will eventually be selected via lottery to be sent to... (Drum roll...) the island, the world's last outdoor safe zone, where they will slowly repopulate the species. Lincoln, however, wants more out of his sterile, preschool like existence (male/female touching is prohibited, much like the social lives for many in the target demographic for this film), and he starts to question the basic foundations of his life. After his best buddy, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson, not since Eight Legged Freaks has she been so regulated to pure eye candy) gets selected to go to The Island, Lincoln gets suspicious and discovers something... something so shocking that it will scrape your nerves screamingly raw! (That's my 1950s type bid for quote whoredom).

As stated above, the first 70 minutes of The Island are terrific. The setting is fascinating, the minute details of the enclave are rich and interesting, and the eventual revelations are completely logical and utterly plausible. While McGregor and Johansson are basically action figure stand-ins (not unintentionally, it should be stated), Sean Bean, as a scientist and the big boss of the containment unit, walks away with the picture simply by being Sean Bean and adding instant credibility (he is on the level of Gene Hackman or Morgan Freeman; he is incapable of giving a bad performance, no matter how good or bad the movie). Steve Buscemi, as an employee at the containment center and an alley of our heroes, chews scenery in his first major role in a few years (remember, back in the late 90s, when he was in every independent movie released?). Djimon Hounsou, as a private mercenary/bounty hunter, gets a big paycheck, though he is underused, and in context, his final meaningful staring glance seems to suggest less 'gee I guess this is how it ends' and more 'gee, I'm by far the sexiest man in this picture, so how come I don't end up with Johansson?'

What happens after those initial 70 minutes? Well, most of the plot is explained, and the film pretty much becomes non-stop action, with several major chase set pieces taking up the majority of the next 60 minutes. These action scenes are exquisitely constructed, fast paced and creative, and quite simply as boring as unbuttered toast. Since we don't really care about the fate of our two leads, and they really aren't real three-dimensional characters (again, can't be too specific here), it basically becomes 'chase of the stick figures'.

Still, even after the film tragically remembers that it's supposed to be a brainless Michael Bay action picture, there are several minutes sprinkled afterward that do remember that Michael Bay was trying to stretch. The film deals head on with the murky moral issues that it dabbles in, without offering any real answers. That the film's politics eventually lean a bit to the right doesn't win it any points, but previous Michael Bay films show him to be more Red State than Blue State (particularly Bad Boys 2, which flaunted the use of the Patriot Act and climaxed with the massacre of innocent Cuban civilians to facilitate an illegal police action in a sovereign nation by our alleged heroes). Again, I don't agree with some of the film's symbolic imagery, but that's not a deal breaker (I loathe the anti due-process and anti fair trial message behind The Devil's Advocate, but I find the film quite entertaining regardless). And the film does leave much to discuss for coffee or ice cream afterward.

In the end, The Island is another sci-fi parable that wrestles with the eternal question of what science can do versus what science should do. That the film doesn't come up with iron clad answers is commendable, that the film eventually dissolves into a brainless chase picture with boring leads is less commendable. So, see The Island. See Ewan and Scarlett run for their lives. See Sean Bean and know that he is one of the very best character actors around. See Steve Buscemi do the shtick you used to take for granted back in the 1990s. See Djimon Hounsou and feel inadequate. See a movie that is quite literally halfway decent.

And, whatever you do, when you see The Island, do NOT see, hear or be in the presence of the new trailer for the upcoming Red Eye. I've seen Red Eye, it's quite entertaining, but the new trailer literally gives away the entire film. You've been warned.

first 70 minutes: A-
last 60 minutes: C-
average: B-

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails