HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011) / Comedy

Running Length: 98 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.

Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Colin Ferrell, Lindsay Sloane, Donald Sutherland
Director: Seth Gordon
Producers: Brett Ratner, Jay Stern
Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Work sucks, especially when you have bosses like the characters in Horrible Bosses do. These are some of the most wretched, most foul, most unforgiving people ever to be encountered by mankind, and to give them control of a company is like handing the other employees a death sentence. Prepare for the rest of your days at this building to be a living hell.

The story focuses on Nick (Bateman, Hancock), Dale (Day, TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), and Kurt (Sudeikis from “SNL”), three buddies whose day jobs are getting the better of them. Nick is a borderline workaholic who has high hopes that his hard work will result in a promotion that his manipulative boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty) never plans on giving him. Dale’s boss, Dr. Julia Harris (a brunette Jennifer Aniston), frequently subjects him to sexual harassment. Kurt has the best job of all until his beloved boss (Donald Sutherland) dies and he’s stuck with his insensitive and drug-addicted son, Bobby (Colin Farrell). So, upon the realization that their lives will only continue to get worse if they allow themselves to be treated this way, the three plot to finally get rid of the bosses once and for all, and it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Sure, there are moments in Horrible Bosses where I felt dirty for laughing. The humor is coarse and the jokes are vulgar, but compared to the other raunchy comedies of yesteryear, it’s relatively tame. There are no lines that are crosses, no bounds that are overstepped. The material here is suitable for a modern audience, and that’s refreshing for a comedy in this day and age. Previous efforts like The Hangover Part II or The Change-Up tested the limits of offensiveness and ended up being less funny. On the other hand, Horrible Bosses is not nearly as crude or graphic and had me laughing from start to finish.

The acting is one of the brightest aspects. Jason Bateman employs his usual deadpan comedic style and works well alongside Charlie day, who remains energetic and frenetic throughout most of the movie. Jason Sudeikis delivers a calm and well-modulated performance and adds balance to the trio. Plus, his comedic timing is impeccable. The writers (Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein) equip their script with a fair amount of one-liners that come in handy when the boys go out on their various reconnaissance missions, even though a lot of it seems improvised.

Like his character in Swimming with Sharks, Spacey is rude, sarcastic, and a real wise-ass. An actor of his age and status is perfect for this role. He incorporates years and years of playing the bad guy into one very memorable performance and frankly, it’s one of his funniest. As for Aniston, the success of her performance comes from the fact that the character she’s playing is so atypical for her. It’s shocking to hear her say some of the things that she says, but it’s never not funny. Colin Farrell rounds out as the last of the bosses and while he doesn’t have much screen time, he’s just as evil and crude as Spacey. My only problem is that he was underused.

PG-13 comedies are being churned out less and less these days. (In fact, I can’t remember the last time that I heard of one coming out in theaters.) So much more room is given with the R rating. The kind of humor changes and darker things are allowed to be said and done, and Horrible Bosses doesn’t exactly exploit its rating, it certainly takes full advantage of it. It’s by far one of the funniest comedies of last year.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

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TOTAL RECALL (1990) / Action-Adventure

Running Length: 113 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for strong bloody violence, language, sexuality, and nudity.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Mel Johnson Jr., Marshall Bell
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producers: Mario Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna
Screenplay: Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill (based upon the short story “We Can Buy It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick)

At first glance, Total Recall may seem like the same old big budget actioneer that its star Arnold Schwarzenegger so often populates. Immediately, you expect bad acting, pervasive fight scenes, a lot of one-liners, and for good reason, too. (The latter two will be found here.) Cast Schwarzenegger was a huge risk for director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop), for his name alone usually discourages movie-goers. But let me tell you something: Total Recall is not at all what you’re expecting.

Based on a short story by science-fiction icon Philip K. Dick, the plot of Total Recall transpires in a distant future, on an earth that looks a lot like the financial districts of most major cities. Schwarzenegger stars as Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who often dreams about visiting Mars. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone) and his friends dissuade him from thinking these thoughts, but when he hears about Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting memories of actual vacations, he decides to give it a go.

Upon arriving at Rekall, Quaid is given the option of traveling to Mars as either himself or a multitude of alter-egos, including the option to travel as a secret agent. He opts for the latter, is restrained and sedated, but before the procedure can begin, he wakes up and freaks out, claiming that he is not who he is. He tries to elope, but is subdued and sedated yet again. When he wakes up, hes still the same, but his life is no longer what it once was. Hired killers are after him and his wife and friends aren’t who they seem to be. That’s when he happens across a tape explaining that he’s actually part of an underground resistance fighting the forces of Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), a corrupt politician. This is big news for Quaid. He didn’t want any part of this. On the outside, he may look tough, but inside he’s just as unsure as the rest of us.

While the premise is intriguing enough, the main success of Total Recall can be found in the film’s production design and special effects. The brilliant reds and oranges of Mars are beautiful to behold and the landscape of the planet in general is well-designed. Being as it is a movie from the early 90s, one would expect for Total Recall to be dated when it comes to the visual aspect, but that’s not true at all. It has actually held up quite nicely. The special effects are dazzling. There’s a scene where Quaid uses an instrument to remove a tracking chip from his brain, a scene where he dresses up using the guise of a lady, and scenes where characters die from decompression on the harsh Mars atmosphere.

Much like RoboCop, there are a heck of a lot of shootouts and all of them end in bloodletting. Characters are axed, stabbed, drilled to death, and shot to pieces – (especially a poor unfortunate soul that Quaid takes hostage on an escalator). There’s even a character whose arms are literally ripped from his body. But Verhoeven keeps it cool and stylish, and often comedic, never lacking in execution. He delivers this violence with a side of tongue-in-cheek humor, which tones it down, making it less gruesome than it actually is. While Total Recall does touch on some important issues, there’s nothing about it that leads you to believe it’s a serious movie.

And as much as people label Schwarzenegger as one of the worst actors out there, he actually does a great job here, bringing as much humor and enthusiasm to the role as he possibly can. He’s the kind of actor that was made for this kind of film and I doubt that any other could replace him. While he does occasionally fall flat with a couple of his line readings, he manages to keep it together quite well for the most part and creates a character that isn’t exactly three-dimensional, but one that we can root for.

Total Recall is not only a great popcorn movie, but a work of startling ingenuity. It’s as absurd as they get, yet it never takes itself too seriously. That’s why it’s so much fun. The blockbusters of late are mechanical and routine and don’t have the heart required to make things work. Such is not the case for Total Recall. Yes, there is a fair amount of stupidity to be had. (In a film like this, when is there not?) But the story never sags and the tension only builds, and I was never bored. Call it what you want – it’s good entertainment.

Final rating: ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2011 Stephen Earnest

ZOMBIELAND (2009) / Horror-Comedy

Running Length: 88 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for horror violence/gore and language.

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Producer: Gavin Polone
Screenplay: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese

I get Zombieland. I get where it’s coming from. Nowadays, most of the horror films that come out are just no good. They’re not scary enough, plain and simple. They rely on the standard clichés of the horror films of the past and in this day and age, those clichés are so overused that they’re no longer effective. That’s where Zombieland comes in. Granted, it can be scary at times, but ultimately, Zombieland is not a horror film, nor does it ever really try to be. It’s a comedy with horror elements, and I’ll admit that most of the time it works.

The zombie comedy genre experienced a revival upon the release of the critically-acclaimed Shaun of the Dead, which I still feel is a bit overrated. (Nonetheless, I found it somewhat enjoyable and occasionally funny in the mildest sense.) Like Shaun of the DeadZombieland is a zombie comedy as well and for some odd reason the two are often compared, even though they are different in almost every aspect aside from the fact that they both deal with zombies in a humorous manner. That’s the absolute extent of their similarity. Of course, this is irrelevant and doesn’t really matter, but I just find the entire ordeal annoying.

Anyway, the story of Zombieland transpires in a post-apocalyptic America, where most of the nation has been “zombie-fied” due to a mutated strain of mad cow disease. Unlike other zombie films of the past, this is an entirely plausible and logical epidemic, which is something I have rarely seen. Our hero is “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg), a college student whose name is derived from the town in Ohio that he is traveling to. He’s on his way home. Along the way, he encounters “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson), a redneck and certified zombie-killer on his way to Florida, and the two take up as traveling companions. Eventually, they come across “Wichita” (Emma Stone) and her little sister “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin).

From here, Zombieland becomes little more than your average road movie. The gang finds themselves headed towards Pacific Playland, a zombie-free amusement park on the West Coast. Now, how the park remains so free of the undead is a mystery to me; a mystery that logic will undoubtedly spoil. But that is neither here nor there because while I found particular moments of Zombieland not to my liking, I enjoyed the film as a whole.

My fondest performance came from Woody Harrelson, and it’s definitely one of the best that he’s had in years. (Who knew that it would be in a movie like this?) He can switch from being funny to being emotional to just kicking ass and not once does his acting ever falter. Jesse Eisenberg does a good job as the lead, creating a likable and reasonable character, and Abigail Breslin is her usual self, but I had a hard time with Emma Stone. I suspect that it’s mainly because I find her to be such a cold actress, even though I liked her in Superbad. Here, she’s monotonous and delivers her lines without emotion.

Acting isn’t something that should be relied upon in a movie like Zombieland. It’s more about style and the millions of ways that zombies can be killed and it does a good job in both areas. Ruben Fleischer, the director, is a man unknown to me and I know none of his earlier work, but he contributes a good sense of direction here, especially for a first-timer. Now, while most of the humor and events are premeditated, there are certain elements that are original, both visually and in the script, and let’s not forget — let’s not forget — that hilarious cameo. I can guarantee that that scene will generate the most laughs.

It does end the way that you expected it to, but there is enough room left open for a possible sequel, which would be a definite delight. Zombieland is fun, harmless entertainment, but certainly not for the weak of stomach.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS (1999) / Crime-Drama

Running Length: 110 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for strong violence, language, and sexual content.

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly, Bob Marley, David Ferry
Director: Troy Duffy
Producer: Robert Fried, Chris Brinker, Mark McGarry
Screenplay: Troy Duffy

I enjoy a good cult film. Who doesn’t? They’re odd, quirky, off the beaten path. That’s how they attain their cult status. And there are some good ones out there, but sadly, The Boondock Saints is not of them, although you may have been led to believe so. See, The Boondock Saints is essentially garbage in cinematic form. It’s dumb, stale, and rotten to the core. The most positive words I can say about it are that it makes good use of a terrible premise and screenplay. I mean, really; how good can a movie about two Irish vigilantes and a gay FBI agent be? The answer is not very good at all.

First and foremost, I can’t stand how big of a following this film has. What do people see it? Is there something that I’m not getting? Understanding? I loathed this film. I absolutely detested it. I searched and searched for anything redeemable, and while there were occasions where I found a certain line or scene enjoyable, I mostly sat in despair, thinking to myself, “Why do people like this film so much?” Once you get past the shoddy direction, weak script, and wooden acting, there are still the countless technical mishaps, which are so plentiful in number that a pretty decent drinking game could be made of them. It’s really just awful in every aspect.

This is why I suspect that The Boondock Saints is loved not because it is good, but because it is so bad that it is good. It is sort of a guilty pleasure, like those really campy B-movie horror flicks from the 80s. Maybe it’s not. Maybe people actually enjoy watching this. Maybe those same people list Howie Long as one of their favorite actors. Who really knows? Better yet, who really cares? When a film maintains a critic rating of 20 percent on the Tomatometer and an audience rating of 90, who are you really gonna trust?

Yet it still manages to attract followers, which is simply beyond me. So, for those of you that don’t know what it’s about, I’ll enlighten you. The story focuses on two Irish-Catholic brothers, Conner (Flanery, TV’s “The Young and the Restless”) and Murphy (Reedus, Blade II), who kill a pair of Russian mobsters in self-defense and, because of their actions, are seen as local heroes, even by the police force. Assigned to their case is FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), who, during an interview with them, discovers their motivations for doing what they did and reasons with them.

Later that night, in a holding cell, the brothers are contacted by God and are called upon to destroy the evil and the wicked that run rampant in their town. They become vigilantes, and with the help of their friend Rocco (David Della Rocco), they set out to get rid of evil in the most Catholic way possible: by shooting it full of holes and mercilessly stomping it into the ground.

Now, as I am sure I have stated before, “Tarantinoan” is a term that I like to distance myself from, but it’s obvious what the influences are here. The script by Troy Duffy resembles something that Tarantino might have written, but lacks his style or touch. The dialogue is unnatural. The pop culture references seem to written by a man who has no earthly idea what he is talking about. Jokes that were intended to be funny are not. (There’s a running gag about a senile old man named “Fuck-Ass” whose constant stuttering always results in a frustrated “Fuck! Ass!”)

The shootout scenes are so badly-written and so badly-executed that it’s just pathetic, and the scenes meant to inspire emotion left me shaking my head in disappointment. Hell, there’s even a scene where Willem Dafoe dresses up in drag and poses as a prostitute. (Yeah, there’s that scene.) And we’re talking about Willem Dafoe here. Willem freakin’ Dafoe. What was he thinking? I mean, sure, I can see why it wasn’t that bad of a decision considering the amount of money that he’s made from it, but this is just embarrassing. Not only does writer/director Troy Duffy waste Dafoe’s talent; he abuses them. He manages to make one of the finest actors of our generation look like a poor, untalented fool.

And Dafoe’s performance isn’t even the worst of the entire movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best. The leads, Flanery and Reedus, have terribly chemistry with one another and deliver stiff, detached performances. Never before I have seen two actors look more uncomfortable and miscast than these two. There’s Billy Connolly as the entirely irrelevant Il Duce and Carlo Rota as the loud and incomprehensible Don “Papa” Joe, but neither are as bad as David Della Rocco, who has just about the worst excuse for a performance I’ve seen since Chuck Norris’ turn in Forest Warrior. Rocco spends most of his screen time shaking, ranting, yelling, and cursing, yet never manages to make any of it seem genuine.

Listen up, fanboys. You can say whatever you like about this movie. You can try to explain to me what is so “good” about it. You can try to bring me down to your level stupidity by getting me to agree with you, but I won’t and I never will. That’s that. Trust me; I can handle a dumb movie. I can even learn to like a dumb movie. But what I can’t handle is a dumb that doesn’t know that it’s dumb, and that’s precisely what The Boondock Saints is.

Final rating: ★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) / Comedy-Fantasy

Running Length: 94 minutes
MPAA Classification: PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.

Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Tom Hiddleston
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Lefty Aronson, Stephen Tenebaum, Jaume Roures
Screenplay: Woody Allen

As the summer fast approaches, the movie theaters of America begin to become crowded. Blockbuster season is within reach. Students released from school prepare to flood the beaches of both the east and west coast. At night, they take to the local cinema, in search of both a good movie and a way to spend their hard-earned money. Substance is irrelevant. The star-studded action vehicles and the loud explosionfests and the special effects extravaganzas are what they really want to see, and who can blame them? Kids will be kids.

Well about that same time of year, Midnight in Paris was released to mainstream audiences. Immediately, it found both critical and commercial success, and for good reason, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to see it then. See, my expectations for the movies of late are never high. So much cinematic crap has circulated from theater to theater over the past year or so that I simply don’t have any trust in any of them at all. Call me what you want, but I’ve wasted a good amount of money this year on movies that have put me to sleep and I don’t intend on doing it anymore.

Needless to say, when I finally did watch Midnight in Paris last night, I was pleasantly surprised. Not too surprised, as I am well-aware of Woody Allen and I take a liking to most of his work, but more surprised than I thought that I would be. Here is a film that has enough humor in it to make it a comedy, enough romance in it to make it romantic, enough heart in it to make it heartfelt, and enough charm in it to gross 150 million dollars at the box office.

The premise for Midnight in Paris is a familiar one, but not an overused one. We center on Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his wife, Inez (Rachel McAdams), as they are vacationing in Paris with Inez’s parents, played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy. Gil is a nice guy. He’s affable and easygoing. His wife, on the other hand, isn’t. She’s uptight and slightly intolerant of him, and more concerned with the wealthier side of Paris, while Gil would rather just explore the city and admire the culture and historical significance.

One night, Gil decides to wander the streets of Paris by himself, drunk. When the clock strikes midnight, he is approached by an antique car and invited inside. He is dubious, but drunk, so he gets in. Eventually, they arrive at a bar and Gil realizes that he has transported back to the 1920’s. He talks to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who offers to show Gil’s unfinished novel to classic to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), but when Gil leaves the bar to go and get it, he discovers that he is back in present time.

As the film progresses, Gil begins to develop an attraction for the mistress of Pablo Picasso, Adriana (Marion Cotillard.) He becomes more distant from his wife and she and her parents become suspicious of his late-night wanderings, leading to her father even hiring a private investigator.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s 46th feature film, and it seems strangely different from the rest of his work. It’s as if we’re getting a different side of the man, a brighter side. There is none of that cynical humor that is so prevalent in most of his films. The lead character, Gil, is lighthearted and is not so beset on pointing out all of the faults of mankind. He’s genial. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t like the leads in other Allen films like Whatever Works and Annie Hall; I’m just saying that it’s nice to have a change.

Of course, this “change” might have something to do with the casting of comedic actor Owen Wilson as Gil. Wilson brings a large amount of charm and charisma and likability to his character, which is something that is hard to find in a Woody Allen film, and his performance really helps contribute to the overall mood. Surprisingly enough, he makes for a great lead. (Hopefully, it will help get Wilson back on his feet, for he’s been out of work lately.) But there are other great performances besides Wilson’s, and almost all of them are brief. Adrien Brody is only present for one scene, in which he plays Salvador Dali, and Michael Sheen plays Paul Bates, the intellectual friend of Inez who seems to know very little of what he’s actually talking about. I found the film’s best supporting performance to come from Corey Stoll, a relatively unknown actor who plays the character of Ernestt Hemingway with such subtlety. If it wasn’t for his small amount of screen time, I’d bet on an Oscar nomination.

The general look of the film is attractive as well and visually stimulating. Each shot looks like a postcard; all of the bright and luminescent colors show Allen’s love for the city of Paris. He captures the fairy tale aspect of it beautifully. This is by far his best-looking film and I’m sure that many others will agree.

Simply put, I enjoyed myself. I had a great time. Sure, Midnight in Paris isn’t magnificent or a masterpiece, but it does have a certain quality about it that isn’t found in most other films. It’s undemanding and requires not a whole lot of thought. It’s funny, low-key, and an escape from all of the darkness and dreariness out there in the world, and in the end, that’s really all that you can ask for.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

MONA LISA (1986) / Crime-Drama

Running Length: 104 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for language, violence, and strong sexual content.

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane, Clarke Peters, Kate Hardie
Director: Neil Jordan
Producer: Stephen Woolley
Screenplay: Neil Jordan, David Leland

Like the famous painting, Mona Lisa is beautiful, captivating and mysterious. One viewing is simply not enough; multiple are required. There is a depth here unparalleled by most other films, and while countless other comparisons can be made between it and the painting, I prefer to use one in particular – Mona Lisa, like the famous painting, is a work of art.

Irish writer-director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) fills in as Da Vinci and delivers to us what turns out to be a promising and worthwhile venture into the seedier parts of London. Never before has the city been presented in such a way. There are dark, foreboding alleyways; streets cluttered with porn shops and sleazy strip clubs; and cobblestoned sectors where prostitution is rampant. Jordan’s view of the city is atypical – (it might have something to do with him being a native of Ireland) – and helps in contributing to the overall tone of the film.

Mona Lisa opens with Nat King Cole’s song of the same name, which plays against the opening credits. These moments are so sanguine and upbeat that we are anticipating an entirely different film than the one that we’re going to get. Of course, this changes the second that they end.

Bob Hoskins stars as George, recently released from prison. He arrives at the doorstep of his own home to greet his daughter, but she doesn’t recognize him at first glance and his ex-wife throws him out. Tommy (Robbie Coltrane), an old friend, is in the area and offers George a place to stay. On their way home, George pays a visit to Mortwell (Michael Caine), a man who seems to be connected to his prison sentence. Because of this, George feels as though he deserves some sort of recompense. Mortwell is not there, but one of his associates offers George the job of working as a chauffeur for Simone (Cathy Tyson), a high-class call girl. At first, the two do not get along, but a relationship does eventually develop. It is not a romantic relationship, but one where both feel comfortable around each other. Eventually, George learns that Simone is in trouble, and Mortwell is involved.

The story never settles into any particular genre. At some parts, it is a drama. At others, it is a thriller. There are even moments of romance, but not the kind of romance that one expects. This is one of Mona Lisa‘s most admirable attributes.

Probably the best performance comes from Bob Hoskins, who was rightfully nominated for an Oscar. Hoskins is a puzzle of an actor to me. I’m not sure how to categorize him, for he doesn’t quite have the look of an actor that should be in these kinds of roles, yet he plays them to perfection. He makes the character of George. There’s an equal amount of confidence and innocence in his performance that makes us sympathize with him, either when he’s not sure of what’s going on or growling in anger. Hoskins is that kind of unique actor that looks he should always be wearing a perpetual frown and holding an AK-47, but he can display emotion like no other.

Aside from Hoskins, there are other good performances as well. Michael Caine is brutish and caustic as the film’s main villain, one of the few that he’s played in his career. (I deny the existence of On Deadly Ground.) He is terrifically wicked in his role and equally matches the yelling strength of Hoskins in a particular scene. Cathy Tyson does a good job as well in her film debut, and she strangely reminded me of Cynda Williams in Carl Franklin’s One False Move.

Under Jordan’s elegant direction, Mona Lisa is one the classiest films that cinema has ever had to offer. It has an attitude of self-confidence and self-aprpeciation, again much like the famous painting, and there is an air of sophistication that hangs about it. Neil Jordan is a film maker whose work always carries a distinct look about it, and Mona Lisa proves his film making prowess.

Final rating: ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011) / Action-Adventure

Running Time: 154 minutes
MPAA Classification: PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Jon Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Frances McDormand, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kevin Dunn, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Julie White
Director: Michael Bay
Producers: Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Ian Bryce
Screenplay: Ehren Krugher, based on the Hasbro toy line

It is often said the sequels are never quite as good as the original. They just can’t ever compare. Studio executives see their chance to cash in on a film’s success, so they decide to make another one. This involves adding onto the end of the film’s title a big number ‘2’ or a colon followed by a dumb phrase. Understand that I’m not trying to explain to you how a sequel is made. I don’t take you people for a bunch of idiots. I’m only trying to make a point.

Well, considering the fact that the first Transformers movie was a monumental piece of crap and the sequel that followed it was even worse, your expectations for Transformers: Dark of the Moon should be relatively low. This is one of the biggest, dumbest movie franchises in the history of cinema and why it continues to make money is a testament to the mental state of our generation. Its name upon the movie theater marquee attracts children, frat boys, video game nerds, and people who are looking for a good laugh. Of course, I fit in with the latter crowd.

What I didn’t realize was the trouble I had gotten myself into. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is class A cheese, loaded with a plethora of bad one-liners, bad performances, and all sorts of technical mishaps, but its unintentional humor began to wear off within the first hour, and with a dreadful ninety-something minutes to go, I started to feel very, very scared for myself. Trouble was indeed on the horizon.

Here is a film that is not only an assault on the human mind, but on the ears and eyes as well. It is a non-stop barrage of deafening roars and steel-on-steel screeching, with plenty of yelling to boot. I would classify it as a form of psychological torture, but I doubt that the film’s director, Michael Bay, even has a clue what that is.

This time, the plot is a tad more coherent, but it doesn’t remain that way. There are the Decepticons and there are the Autobots and they engage in a multitude of battles on planet Earth, as they are ones to do. There’s Shia LaBeouf, whose depravity as an actor knows no bounds. His performance consists of a lot of yelling, running, and the occasional crude remark towards his inept parents and/or hot girlfriend. Then there are the likes of John Malkovich and Frances McDormand and John Turturro, who are some of the most talented performers out there, but here, they just embarrass themselves.

I won’t go into detail about the robots themselves, except for the fact that they’re just as illogical as they were in the first two films. Structure remains the same, but now there are some that have beards made out of steel, there are some that wear clothes, and if I’m not mistaken, I swear I saw one smoking cigarettes.

As for the film itself, I got exactly what I was expecting and nothing less — large robot battle sequences with a lot of slicing and scratching and continuous gunfire, not to mention very loud explosions and some slowed-down scenes of very large objects toppling to the ground. Close your eyes, start humming a drum beat, and basically what you have is a bad dubstep mix. Plus, the film as a whole is visually unappealing. It relies on special effects to attract an audience, but these are no better than anything else. The cinematography is shockingly bland and boring, and everything is over-edited to the point where you honestly have no idea what is going on anymore. Images smash against each other so often and so recklessly that at one point during the film I just wanted to press my hands against my face and yell at the top of my lungs, “Stop!” My brain was being beaten to a pulp.

There is only so much mayhem that one person can take, and Bay stretches those limits to the extreme. At an astonishing 154 minutes long, Transformers: Dark of the Moon could be labeled as an “epic.” Was the extra hour of gunplay necessary? Was it? Really? Is there anyone out there that found themselves completely involved in the film for its entire length, despite all of the repetitive action going on in front of them? My head was numb. I was unable to blink. As the final credits began to roll, I felt as though I had lost a rather large and important part of my mind.

But there is a happy ending. This does end on a more positive note. We shall see no more installments to the Transformers trilogy. It is over and done with, unless of course Michael Bay finds a way to squeeze a fourth one in, and that is very well within the realm of possibility. But for now, I cherish the idea of a Transformers-free world, where hearing aid costs are down and money is being put to better use. Hell, I can see it already…

Final rating: ★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest