This ‘Island’ is half empty or half full but worth a trip
While watching “The Island,” there is a steady, palpable decline in the film’s intelligence. It’s as if the viewer is being given the Cyrano de Bergerac treatment. Surreptitiously from the bushes, the first hour of “The Island” teases, promising a smart science fiction thriller with a great futuristic vibe, and a narrative that provokes keen interest, with a few humorous touches thrown in for good measure.
Alas, the final hour and a quarter reveals “The Island’s” true nature: An admirably executed but mindless mayhem monster. Then it dawns on you that this film is directed by Michael Bay (“The Rock,” “Bad Boys,” “Armageddon”), whose name has become synonymous with the phrase “mindless mayhem.”
Does such a radical shift destroy the final product? I guess that would depend on what kind of movie you are in the mood to see. At first, “The Island” prompts comparisons to “Gattaca” and “Minority Report,” with its sterile vision of a world populated by contamination survivors. The obedient inhabitants include Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). Every move the pair makes is monitored and calculated as they anxiously await their lottery-driven opportunity to leave their mysterious confines for “The Island,” nature’s last pathogen-free zone.
We’re not sure exactly why their activities, including their food consumption and even their proximity to the opposite sex is so rigidly controlled — and neither are they. Interesting contrasts abound — Daffy Duck cartoons are projected on large screens throughout the self-contained, brightly lit factory while Puccini’s “Turandot” plays in the background. Bodies that appear to be in various stages of gestation hang horizontally in large chambers, and clandestine surgeries are performed upon what appear to be unwilling patients. Lincoln wonders aloud why he is forced to eat tofu, and what tofu is in the first place.
Being careful not to spoil what plot remains, it turns out Lincoln’s curiosity is actually a defect in a high stakes corporate scheme where life extension has become a very viable consumer product. The film eventually shifts gears and turns into an update of 1976’s “Logan’s Run,” a film memorable mostly because of Farrah Fawcett, who, if memory serves did a lot of running. (Look for a remake next year.)
Casting McGregor and Johansson and a team of very capable actors that includes Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi and Djimon Hounsou, is also a double-edged sword. When they are given good lines to deliver, they deliver. But even the finest thespian can’t dignify prattle like Go, go, go!” or, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out!”
There are several impressive chase sequences that, despite their pulse-pounding effectiveness, ring in a relentlessly shallow tone. Ultimately, the film works well enough to prompt questions about a myriad of socially relevant issues involving cloning, stem-cell research, even our pursuit of physical perfection. The film isn’t deep enough to make commentary on those issues, but for those who want lots of car crashes with their future science, Michael Bay is more than happy to oblige.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexuality and language.