Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Ramon Rodriguez
Director: Michael Bay
Robots on a rampage in non-American lands: breaking things, delivering Dirty Harry-like send-off lines and talking dirty. A scantily-clad Megan Fox draped over a motorcycle. Add a few crass jokes and visual gags about foul-mouthed suburban parents and sex-crazed canines, for example, and you have an idea of what the first 20 minutes of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen looks like. In fact, that pretty much sums up a film so bombastic that it'll alienate all but the most loyal aficionados of morphing androids and Fox's physique.
And there's nothing ambivalent about which demographic Michael Bay is trying to please here: rather than widening the appeal of the Transformers franchise - which is what one would expect a sequel to do - Bay seems intent on fulfilling the cravings of hormonal teenage males, who'll most probably whoop and holler as the Autobots and the Decepticons slug it out for a device that can switch off the sun, decimate humanity and preclude a Transformers 3 sequel.
It's perhaps hardly coincidental that Sam, the world-saving teenage hero played by Shia LaBeouf, is rarely addressed by his full name - for his surname, Witwicky, would certainly jar with what's happening on screen, given how, for all Bay's attempts to inject the proceedings with crude humour, Revenge of the Fallen is completely devoid of wit. The preference for brawn over brain is perhaps epitomised by the way Sam, the human ally of the Autobots, sees his new life as a university freshman falling apart after just two days when the Decepticons - fronted by one masquerading as a sexually aggressive young woman (Isabel Lucas) - arrive on campus and destroy everything in view to get the young man to reveal some runes that are key to world domination. Or something.
And from that point onwards the sound of crashing metal never lets up. Well if only, because that would mean we wouldn't have to suffer the cringeworthy humour that punctuates the film, such as John Turturro's painful-to-watch return to the franchise as secret agent Reggie Simmons (including a scene in which he takes off his pants to reveal a thong) and the appearance of a pair of twin robots whose street-talk lines flirt with racism and homophobia. LaBeouf's pedestrian turn doesn't help. His performance becomes more inert as the film wears on - and he's shown up brutally this time, with the hyperactive hilarity of Ramon Rodriguez as his panicking roommate Leo.
Revenge of the Fallen also plays on various fears in the middle American psyche. The way the leading Decepticon broadcasts a message that 'we can destroy your cities at will' is eerily similar to the Osama bin Laden tapes that appeared regularly on television after the September 11 attacks. When sinister government officials demand the Autobots - just warriors in Sam's eyes - take their 'blood feud' with the Decepticons elsewhere, it's hard not to see Bay's fury towards those who disapprove of US forces' presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. All that chimes with the solemn ceremony at the beginning of the film, when we see coffins draped in flags being unloaded from a plane.
It's nearly obligatory to interpret Revenge of the Fallen in this way, given that the film is cynical to the point that the script tries to conjure laughs from even the most obvious targets, with Barack Obama and swine flu both getting mentions. Bay has never been about subtlety, but this time he's really shouting his way to the bank.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens today