Friday, January 20, 2006

Movie Review: The Island

Via, my wife and I watched this dystopic tale of genetically-engineered human "products", cloned to serve as spare parts for their wealthy donors, starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor.

Meh. This movie could have been a contender if 30 minutes had been chopped out of the sagging middle. At a butt-numbing 136 minutes, it's just too long. Scarlett isn't pretty enough to hold anyone's interest for two hours sixteen; Ewan's one-note performance is similarly lacking in staying power.

Massive suspension of disbelief required: the idea that someone's love of speed is carried in the DNA is borderline plausible. The idea that a clone would "remember" the shape of his donor's most recent boat design is laughable. The idea that the clone's DNA would enable him to remember the name of the boat is so profoundly stupid that the screenwriter - or, more likely, the brain-dead Hollywood suit who overrode the screenwriter to insist on including this profoundly retarded concept - should be beaten with hammers.

In fact, this plotline was so intrinsically dumb that I was convinced that the Ewan McGregor character with the strange memories of his boat design was not a clone - nobody could possibly be that ignorant - but was in fact some kind of sleeper or mole who had infiltrated the cloning facility in order to bring it down, and had some problem with remembering his true identity a la Red Planet. Nope - they were that ignorant.

I can forgive that, though. It's not a Hollywood science-fiction epic without whooshing ships in space or cloning idiocies or some damn fool thing. More difficult to let go is the bizarre behavior of the film's villain, who - after showing no compunction about destroying half of Los Angeles and killing thousands of people to preserve his lab's dark secret (clients think the clones are brainless automatons, but in reality they're living people who are told they are the last survivors of a calamitous plague) - inexplicably lets the McGregor clone's donor live after he has been told about the secret. Of course, it isn't really the donor - it's McGregor himself, and he brings down the villain's horrible empire.

Other inconsistencies and implausibilities abound. None of the apparently hundreds of staff people who are clued in on the secret show the slightest interest in the fact that they are party to - in some cases, personally conducting - cold-blooded mass murder. (We are shown that the security guards tend towards being brutal bullies - but this behavior never translates into mistreatment of the clones before their deaths.) They aren't being well-renumerated; the senior technician (Steve Buscemi, in a graceful performance of a badly written role) who befriends McGregor and facilitates his escape, lives in a dumpy home and drives a beater car.

Most of these problems would have evaporated in a shorter movie - no time for worries about the intrinsic implausibility of a giant secret cloning facility in the middle of the desert, gotta watch rocket bike chases through the skyways of LA! - but with two hours to sit and brood upon them, they grow and grow in the imagination.

Disappointing, really. The sets are impressive. The acting was generally good, even if McGregor was doing his best impersonation of a piece of plywood. Special effects are used sparingly and effectively. The film collapses of its own weight and seriousness; if it's to be taken seriously, then it falls apart from internal inconsistencies. If it's fun-in-the-cloning-sun, then it's way too long.

Overall grade: C-

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