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July 25, 2005

The Island Review

Some spoilers, but honestly, it's so predictable I don't think I'm really giving anything away that you don't already know from the trailers or won't see coming at least a half-hour in advance.

Short review: I liked it better when it was called Logan's Run.


Slightly longer review: When I first saw the trailer for this, I thought it was a remake of Logan's Run that I had somehow not heard of in advance. After having seen it, it turns out I'm right-- it is remake of Logan's Run, though they seem to have figured out a way how to remake that film without paying off the original novelist and filmmakers: just swipe nearly everything but change it just enough to avoid an infringement suit.

Even the names recall Logan's Run. Logan Five, meet Lincon Six Echo. Instead of the Carousel, with the promise of "renewal," there's The Lottery, with the promise of leaving the dreary complex and humping all day on an island paradise. The citizens of the enclosed city in Logan's Run have never seen an old person; the citizens of the enclosed city in The Island have never seen children. Scarlett Johansson doesn't look that much like Jenny Agutter, but hey, blonde hair and bigger rack aside, she's pretty darn close. Logan, I mean, Lincoln, has dreams about a boat called the Renavatio, which we're told means "rebirth" in Latin, which sounds pretty close to "Renewal" to me.

And, not to give anything away, but come on, you know how this is going to end. Remember all the people finally leaving the enclosed city in Logan's Run? Let's just say you're going to have a chance to appreciate that all again.

It's not quite fair to call this a ripoff of Logan's Run. It's also a ripoff of a half-dozen other sci-fi and action films, the cool bits and concepts from other movies stitched into this film's middle act (because, come on, they couldn't go looking for Sanctuary without the filmmakers being sued). Director Michael Bay even plagiarizes himself-- in Bad Boys II, he featured a chase sequence featuring a cary-carrier truck, the car-carrier dropping cars in the middle of a Florida causeway during a high-speed chase, with predictable, CGI-created crashes and crunches. Here he featues a truck carrying not cars but what might be big tractor axels (not sure what they are, but they're big and heavy), and once again lots of CGI crashes and crunches. Actually, the film is either grainy enough, or the CGI good enough, that I'm not sure these crashes are CGI, and some of it looks pretty good, but really, Michael, I just saw this.

All this borrowing aside, it's not a bad movie. It's okay. Many reviewers say the best part of the movie is the first forty minutes, before there's anything by way of action, or Michael Bay's typically noisy conception of what "action" should be. And I'm going to have to agree with those reviewers. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan MacGregor, for once not showing his weiner) lives in a Big Brother-ish futurist compound -- you can tell it's futurist, because it's all polished concrete and "EtherScreens" -- having his health and psychological profile constantly monitored by computers and track-suit wearing guards, respectively. He has nightmares, nightmares about a previous life he never lived, and he begins to question what the hell is going on here, which alarms the Head Corporate White Guy In Charge Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean).

And he flirts slightly -- very chastely -- with Jordan Two Echo (Scarlett Johansson, now officially a babe, if there was ever any doubt). But everytime he spends more than a few moments with her guards come over and issue him a "proximity warning" and make him separate from her, recalling Big Brother's whole no-no about any sort of sexcrime.

The film makes these two characters appealling through their very childlike innocence. And it's quite literally a childlike innocence-- again, not to give anything away, but you've seen the trailers; they are clones, and they have been cloned and artificially aged into adulthood, which means they look like adults but have the education and worldliness of, say, your average five-year-old. They simply know nothing at all about anything Dr. Merrick doesn't think they need to know about -- and sex is high on the list of things they don't need to know about -- so there's a certain childish charm about Lincoln's and Jordan's longing for each other. They don't really know why they feel better when they're close together, and they have no idea what they'd do if the guards left them alone to for fifteen minutes or half an hour, but it is somewhat endearing that they're in a sort of clueless third-grade love with each other.

This is another instance where The Island attempts to differentiate itself from Logan's Run (funny that a movie about cloing is itself a clone) by simply doing the exact opposite. Where Logan's Run featured nonstop casual anonymous sex -- remember Logan just viewing available sex-partners and "beaming" one of them right into his apartment? -- The Island is entirely sexless.

Lincoln's curiousity and rebellious nature quickly drive him into figuring out what the complex is all about -- and I do mean quickly; once he sneaks into an air duct (what would an action movie be without air-ducts?) he pretty much sees everything that's really going on here in about five minutes. And he realizes that Jordan Two Echo is really not going away to any Garden of Eden like Island (she's just won the "The Lottery") but is instead going to be killed.

And so they flee. And escape to the real world, a world they've been told doesn't exist, as it's been destroyed by some savage plague (called "the contamination"). And the world they escape to is, well, Blade Runner, except with flyin' trains and motorcycles instead of flyin' cars.

Which is where the movie becomes pretty dull. It just turns into a big noisy chase film at that point, with corporate mercenaries (who else?) tracking them via cameras and computers, conveniently catching up with them after every obligatory five minute pause in the action to allow for some minor character and plot development.

This part of the movie isn't really awful, it's just extremely been there/done that/let's skip right ahead to the climax. Which is itself pretty boring, and doesn't feature anything new, exciting, or unexpected, with the single exception of how Jordan sneaks a weapon into the complex. They only subtly hint at it, but let's just say she keeps the small automatic in a place generally not used for smuggling in a PG-13 film.

The movie is just too predictable. When Steve Buscemi shows up as a technician at the complex, you know he will be serving the role of Buddy/Let Me Explain To You Quickly What Is Really Going On Here. When I saw the name Djimon Hounsou (the very tall African from The Amistad and Gladiator) in the credits, I was briefly excited by the possibility of something new, as I thought he would (for once) be cast as a bad guy, and then I realized, shit, okay, he's going to be the bad guy, but of course the bad guy who is later redeemed. (And boy does this film hit its meager plot-points at light speed -- this is the swiftest bad-guy-to-good-guy conversion I've ever seen. No foreshadowing-- he just suddenly gives a little speech about his past and bang, he's on the side of the angels.)

Some interesting stuff here, some cute but shallow characterization, some action that is somewhat visceral and makes you say "ouch," but too much of it is familiar and rote. A lot of people think Michael Bay is one of the worst directors out there -- he's not, not by a long shot, and he did make the quite appealing The Rock -- but he's always got his finger on the pulse of his thirteen-year-old-boy target audience and makes only the most desultory gestures towards satisfying anyone outside that demographic.

Two stars, and one-and-a-half of them get earned in the first forty minutes. The final half star is for the few, brief cute moments between Lincoln, Jordan, and a Special Guest Star who comes in just before the climax.

One Good Thing: If they can make a somewhat-successful ripoff of Logan's Run, I imagine that will help them get the greenlight to make a real remake of Logan's Run.

Let's face it, Logan's Run really wasn't terribly good, but there are cool parts there (the list starts and almost ends with The Sandmen, but there's also that creepy computer and the Carousel), so I actually think this is one of those movies that could be improved in a remake.

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posted by Ace at 12:29 PM

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