Mladen and Del review ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand. Directed by Michael Bay. 157 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

Two questions frequently visited my mind as I watched, in 3D, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” on its opening weekend.

The first was: Where can I find the clearcoat that the Autobots use to protect their paint? The finish on every Autobot, when it was configured as a vehicle, shined brilliantly and the luster was undefeatable. Autobots would roll through a desert, but no dust clung to their paint. Autobots zigzagged through toppling, burning Chicago, but no soot attached to their exteriors. Amazing, I want protection like that for my non-GM car.

The second question was: When will this movie end?

Transformers 3 was “Battle: LA” multiplied by 2. Peril was interminable.

Every instance of Sam Witwicky, portrayed again by Shia LaBeouf, surviving a maelstrom of exploding light pulses and short-recoil hypervelocity projectiles was more absurd than the one that preceded it.

But, part of sitting down for a long time to watch this PG-13 blockbuster is suspending, completely, disbelief. That was made easier by the screenwriter’s effort to make Transformers 3 somewhat serious.

The film is coherent.

There are at least two betrayals in the toy-based movie. What Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy, does to Optimus Prime would make former Vice President Dick Cheney flush with pride.

Humans, hit by photons, disappeared in puffs of gray ash, mimicking scenes in the 2005 remake of “War of the Worlds.”

The realism endures, though the director, I assume inadvertently, tried to wreck it.

Sam’s love interest is unconvincing.

Witwicky’s parents could have been deleted from the movie without it suffering one bit.

And, the film’s panoramic 3D shots looked childish. Cybertron at war was a tangle of metallic structures with fighting robots in stark relief against the background. They looked like plastic models set in motion. Air Force special operations airmen gliding through the Chicago skyline looked more like flying squirrels than hotshots trying to save Earth.

Product placement – I want to go buy a Lenovo computer now – is exceptionally annoying in 3D.

Another of the film’s strengths is decent acting.

America’s national director of intelligence is the woman who won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a cop in “Fargo.” One of the human bad guys, I was told by a friend, is the man who plays “Dr. McDreamy” in the TV show “Gray’s Anatomy.” John Torturro does an OK job reprising his quirky spy character.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the best movie of the franchise. Presumably, because the leader of the Decepticons, Megatron, is beheaded and his second-in-command, Starscream, blasted apart, there’ll be no others. There’s risk, of course, that the director and production company will opt for a prequel. Stay tuned, as I’m sure you will.

Transformers 3 is worth seeing in the theater, but the movie and all its mostly entertaining excess can be enjoyed without the extra several dollars you’d have to drop for 3D.

Del’s take

I don’t think Megatron is the only entity beheaded by this awful example of Hollywood bad-storytelling. Mladen must have been conked on the skull by a piece of Chicago’s falling skyline.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is a disaster from top to bottom, the absolute worst of the three movies and the one that will convince me to never again waste my money on another Transformers movie.

Where do I begin? The bizarre score? The lousy acting and cheesy script? The absolute lack of internal logic? Or maybe the subtle discrimination. Everywhere I look in this movie I see: train wreck.

Let’s start with the score. It’s peppered with trendy clips from bands like Linkin Park, Stained, Skillet and My Chemical Romance, songs that have no business being in a rock ‘em sock ‘em action movie. It’s as if the movie’s makers wanted to endow their creation with a sound of currency, and introduce a note of empathy on the personal level. It didn’t work for me. Music is every bit a plot device as characterization, pacing and visuals. Movies like “A Clockwork Orange” and “Silence of the Lambs” used the score to, if you’ll pardon the pun, underscore the emotional amplitude of certain scenes. Here the music seems merely added on, as if cake icing were used to dress up a taco-cheeseburger-pizza.

There’s no fun in this script. There’s no fun in the actors’ performances. “Dark of the Moon” is 157 minutes of Shia LaBeouf screaming, “ GOTTA GO! LET’S GO! GO, GO, GO!” and “CARLY!” John Malkovich is a power player who looms large in LaBeouf’s employment future but becomes a simpering lap dog once the Autobots hit the fan, and the great Frances McDormand must surrender her role as national intelligence director who doesn’t care what LaBeouf did in the past to an irrelevant footnote once the Decepticons occupy Chicago and begin eradicating the populace. Critical scorn has been heaped upon Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who plays LaBeouf’s love interest, but I found her performance to be one of the most consistent of the movie.

“Dark of the Moon’s” fatal flaw is the rampant contradictions of its own logic. I could compile a list as long as your arm but for brevity’s sake I’ll mention only two. Early in the movie the Autobots are told about a crash site on the moon that may contain the body of their leader, Sentinel Prime. They fly their own spaceship to the moon to recover his body. Yet when the Autobots are banished from Earth they must ride into space aboard a modified NASA shuttle. Um, what happened to the Transformer spaceship, guys? Second, when the Decepticons take over Chicago they seal off air access and shoot down anything trying to fly in, including speedy F-18 Hornets. Yet a flight of subsonic cruise missiles is able to penetrate their defenses, a formation of Ospreys manages to make it into the city, and soldiers hoofing it on the ground enter unmolested. It’s as if the rules of “Transformers” only apply for a few seconds.

Worse is the subtle discrimination the movie presents. Not to be a standard-bearer for all things politically correct but I was alarmed by the dialogue applied to LeBouf’s two “pet” robots, who tended to speak in black dialect and behave like clods. George Lucas took a hit for the same lapse with Jar-Jar Binks in “The Phantom Menace.” Also, an extended scene where a distraught Ken Jeong, in a men’s room stall, presents LaBeouf with evidence that the moon landings were a cover-up for something more insidious, struck me as an attempt to say, “People think we’re gay. Aren’t you embarrassed?” Would the audience have laughed if the joke had been at the expense of a Native American, a woman, or a disabled person?

“Dark Side of the Moon” has made a kabillion dollars at the box office, but I don’t care. It’s a lousy movie replete with contradictions, cheap stereotypes, a bad script and crappy acting. I’m tired of Sam Witwicky and his unbelievable foibles.

If this is what people consider quality entertainment I am clearly out of place with the times.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.