The Island

Jul 27, 2005 at 12:00 am

For the first 40 minutes or so of The Island, Michael Bay manages to keep his itchy scissor-fingers in check and deliver a creepy and reasonably thoughtful sci-fi film. Sure, he’s lifted the plot from Robert S. Fiveson’s 1979 The Clonus Horror (lampooned mercilessly by the Mystery Science Theater 3000), and borrows liberally from movies like Logan’s Run and Coma, but the director shows remarkable restraint in setting up the film’s first act while posing some interesting moral questions. Unfortunately, things quickly go bad from there.

Ewan MacGregor stars as Lincoln Echo Six, one of 2,500 survivors of a mysterious global cataclysm. Living in a sterile, futuristic complex with oppressive social strictures and highly regimented daily routines, he lives for the chance to win the Lottery, the prize for which is relocation to The Island — the last livable place on Earth.

Plagued by strange dreams of another life, Lincoln grows restless and begins to question his surroundings. When he discovers a moth living in a restricted area, he follows it up a ventilation shaft and discovers the awful truth of his existence; he and everyone else in the complex are clones, raised to provide spare parts for their wealthy donors. Grabbing his best friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), he flees into the real world with a pack of mercenaries (led by Djimon Hounsou) hot on his trail.

If you’ve seen any of the film’s trailers, these plot revelations shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s no mystery here; from the opening moments it’s clear that naïve Lincoln’s life is a fake. The adventure comes from his discovery and eventual flight for freedom.

Unfortunately, Bay’s attention deficit disorder kicks back in during The Island’s final two acts and he offers yet another sleek but bloated thrill-ride. The stunts and effects are clearly the best that money can buy, but the truth is we’ve seen most of them before. Bay sacrifices plot exposition for explosions and character development for car crashes. There is one particularly exhilarating highway chase that features giant metal barbells, dozens of flipping cars, a flying motorcycle and the collapse of a skyscraper’s corporate logo. But the story gets buried beneath all the bluster and only the charisma of the film’s two talented leads carry us along.

MacGregor clearly has a good time playing the wide-eyed innocence of Lincoln and his preening, selfish “sponsor.” He even gets to fight himself in a — you guessed it — high-speed car chase. Johansson, a smart and gifted actress, does her best with a vacuous and inconsequential character, but mostly fills the role of feminine eye candy. Steve Buscemi makes a winning appearance (and gets many of the film’s best lines) as a sympathetic computer technician. Sean Bean rounds out the cast as the dastardly Dr. Merrick (a baffling reference to The Elephant Man), a scientific genius who falls prey to irrational behavior in the film’s final reel.

The Island also boasts the most blatant and brazen display of product placement you’re ever likely to see in a film. Puma, Aquafina, Cadillac and MSN are so prominently featured, one half expects Mike Myers’ Wayne Campbell to show up with a smirking wink.

Adding insult to injury, the film goes to great lengths to compare the plight of the clones to that of Holocaust victims and the ethnic cleansing of Africans, referencing gas chamber showers and branding. Within the story, it’s not an unfair comparison — but considering the brazenly commercial instincts of the film, it demonstrates remarkably bad taste.

Given the current moral and ethical implications of cloning and the recent controversies over stem cell research, there’s much for The Island to muse over regarding the state of technology in the world. Unfortunately, Michael Bay is far more interested in what is a decidedly popular refrain this summer: blowing shit up.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to [email protected].