All the technical prowess of “aliens invade” thrillers, from “Independence Day” through “Battle: Lost Angeles,” and the best comic actors money can buy serve “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” well. The funniest, best-executed film in the Earth-protecting robots-that-look-like-cars-and-trucks series, “Moon” delivers the popcorn in gigantic fist-fulls of fun.
It’s as head-slappingly stupid as ever, a product placement action film with a Camaro as a hero. But Michael Bay’s cartoon-come-to-life co-opts NASA history and re-decorates Chicago with a gusto as over-the-top as any manic Shia LaBeouf rant. Hey, what’s an actor to do when all the best lines go to robots?
”I just want to matter,” says young Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), a two-time planetary hero reduced to begging for work from the likes of John Malkovich. He needs a D.C. job because he has traded the bombshell girlfriend played by Megan Fox for a higher end model (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who wears short, tight clothes and only has one scene in which we note that she’s a model, not an actress.
The Autobots are ever vigilant, though there are those (Bill O’Reilly of Fox News among them) who want them exiled. If you have any recollection of the old TV cartoon, you know that those darned Decepticons are never quite vanquished. This time, there’s a buried spaceship on the Moon, a NASA cover-up and the revival of an ancient leader, Sentinel Prime, discomfitingly voiced by the great Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy.
Hearing Mr. Spock repeat lines from “Star Trek” movies in robot form is only the second most tone-deaf thing here. Having real-life lunar explorer Buzz Aldrin on hand to legitimize the bogus NASA history is the first.
But as Sam hurtles from D.C. to the Kennedy Space Center to piece together this alternate version of the Space Race, he meets an array of great character players — from the returning John Turturro (an ex-CIA conspiracy buff), to Frances McDormand, as a new intelligence chief. Yes, Malkovich steals his scenes. Unless he’s in them with the hilarious Ken Jeong of “The Hangover” movies.
“It is CODE PINK,” Jeong’s character shrieks in warning, “as in FLOYD.” Yeah, he’s making a “Dark Side of the Moon” joke.
Jeong’s hysteria isn’t topped until we hang out with the great Alan Tudyck (“3:10 to Yuma”) as he slings a fey Dutch accent as a fixer/assistant to Turturro’s conspiracy buff.
“Moon” builds to a robot battle royale that eats up the third act. But Bay, learning from the last film’s digital blur, slows down the action to let us see the gears grind and pulls off some epic stunts to go with the effects — paratroopers swooping into Chicago in wingsuits.
Yeah, the story is one big “God in the Machine” tale, heroic but hapless humans wait for robot rescue. It’s all spectacle and too much of it at two and a half hours. The sound effects don’t match the visuals in scale, and 3D adds only depth, not gimmicks. The finale is so protracted that one might hope that maybe Hollywood will be shamed into not foisting another “Skyline” or its ilk on us for a few years, that we’ve seen the last of the Transformers.
But then, after you’ve made billions off a cheesy 30 year-old cartoon designed to sell toys, shame doesn’t figure into it
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf (Sam), Rosie-Huntington-Whiteley (Carly), Patrick Dempsey (Dylan), Tyrese Gibson (Epps).
Credits: Directed by Michael Bay, written by Ehren Kruger, produced by Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Don Murphy. A Paramount release. Running time: 2:30