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Interchangeable Parts

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a pile of summer junk.


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The action-movie sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” cost $200 million, and it seems like a bargain. You couldn't get more gaudy junk if you bought the entire city of Miami.

Is it enough to point out that, despite the title, no revenge is ever had during the course of the movie's two and a half hours?

In the run-up to its release, the director, Michael Bay (“Bad Boys”), endlessly repeated his worry as to whether the colossal picture would be completed in time. Gosh! Sounds like marketing hooey, but just imagine this modern-day Michelangelo, working late into the night on his Sistine Chapel, a movie in which a lime-green robot with a gold tooth cap and a Mike Tyson lisp beat-boxes.

“Revenge of the Fallen,” the second movie about Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and a group of large metal beings battling over the planet, makes other crass summer fare look like “Masterpiece Theatre.” It makes no sense except as a repetitive series of pop-movie clichAcs strung together by battles and recycled bumper-sticker slogans, such as “Mean robots suck,” which can be amusing if your goal is to pick the craziest thing in it.

I nominate one of the moments very late in the movie when we're finally told the nominal point, the need to destroy a secret machine hidden atop an Egyptian pyramid, unlocked with a very special-sounding key. The key is called — drum roll, please — the Matrix of Leadership. Ah, yes, the Matrix of Leadership, usually kept on the mantel next to the Widget of Enthusiasm.

Things get off to a bumpy start when the good-guy autobots, not the most cerebral ancient beings from the stars, destroy half of Shanghai trying to capture a couple of decepticons, who were quietly minding their own business under a bridge.

“He's here, I smell him,” the metallic pursuer says. Excuse me, smell him? Did you mean sense him? Feel his disturbance in the force, maybe? Certainly, with your robot face, that (I'm sorry) looks like a bucket of Casio watches, you didn't just say you smelled him.

We are told that God originally made us in the robots' image, which makes it even more disconcerting later to see two wrecking balls swinging beneath one decepticon's private region. “I am directly under the scrotum!” screams John Turturro, who should be way more embarrassed than he seems. Thanks anyway, John, I was completely lost by that point, but not that lost.

“Revenge of the Fallen” makes it up as it goes along, which works fine until it forgets what it made up. The machine in the pyramid is used to feed the robot beings with the energy from stars. Does it have to consume ours? Not especially, but the decepticons aren't that bright either.

Bay himself is too busy trying to look cool to notice. He sets up every scene as if he were trying to capture the naked essence of Pepsi spritzing out of a can. Armed with Wagner Lite and a fleet of helicopters, he has the bravado of a German expressionist and the subtlety of a pornographer.

It's probably too late and too obvious to note that the only point to “Revenge of the Fallen,” besides feeding Bay's ego, is to distract customers long enough to fleece them of their money. All other pretenses are pitifully executed. The robots aren't characters. Their job is to whirl incomprehensibly or sit there like early arrivals at a car show. Forget about following them when they start karate chopping each other. Even Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), Sam's hero, is little more than an end-of-the-action exclamation point.

More attention is paid to the ancient primes, bearded with old Christmas tinsel and appearing in such fearsome shapes as a Model-T Ford. In keeping with the movie's complete lack of coherence, another of these venerable primes is an SR-71 Blackbird spy airplane. I know the jets were retired back in the late '90s, but does that mean the living version would stoop over a cane and grumble like a British bobby?

The usual argument is that such nonsense is just summer fun intended for children, but that notion clangs against such scenes as Optimus, like a gigantic Dirty Harry, putting down an incapacitated enemy with a blast to the head. The movie has worrisome elements of fascism and militarism, but it's the imbecilism that's most depressing. Why do we pay these stupid people to stuff us with bunk? (PG-13) 144 min. HIIII S



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