Director Michael Bay must think if he keeps his camera in constant motion we won’t realize just how threadbare his stories are.
The junk merchant who previously peddled “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon” stays true to form with “The Island.” This time he’s working from a nifty yarn for a change — but no matter. The usual Bay flourishes are plastered all over the screen, from the slow-mo montages to shooting every villain from a worm’s-eye view to amplify their wickedness.
It still stands as an improvement for Mr. Bay, especially since his heroine (Scarlett Johansson) is about as photogenic as any actress on the scene today. And say what you will about Mr. Bay, he knows precisely how to shoot beautiful women — and cars careening out of control.
“The Island” follows Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), a young man living in a futuristic society in which all his basic needs are supplied by the state. Even his urine is tested each morning and his meals adjusted if any nutritional imbalances are found.
The outside world, the society’s ruling class reminds Lincoln and his peers, has been contaminated and can no longer sustain life. But there’s hope for those who long to feel sunlight on their face again. An island has been decontaminated and awaits anyone lucky enough to win in the society’s lottery system.
It all sounds positively utopian, or at least sustainable, but Lincoln has a few nagging questions. Why did a flying insect from the outside enter the facility if all creatures were killed by the contamination? How does the lottery system work, exactly? And why doesn’t anyone question anything about their supposedly perfect system?
Lincoln shares a slight flirtation with Jordan Two Delta (Miss Johansson), even though that sort of bonding is expressly forbidden. When Jordan wins the lottery, Lincoln trails her to see just where she’s going and sees a past lottery winner (Michael Clarke Duncan) going under the knife against his will.
Before you can say, “Soylent Green is people,” Lincoln realizes the island is but a ruse. His fellow residents are merely clones grown for organ harvesting.
An unnamed corporation offers the very rich their own clone should any of their own organs weaken. The clients are told the clones live in a persistent vegetative state, a lie meant to assuage any feeling that their selfishness borders on cruelty, if not downright murder.
When Lincoln and Jordan escape, the corporation hires a bounty hunter-type (Djimon Hounsou) to bring ‘em back dead or alive. Meanwhile, Lincoln and Jordan navigate this strange new world outside the state while trying to find the folks who paid for their creation in the first place. Naturally, this leads to a stirring freeway chase and a neat rooftop escape which casts aside all the laws of physics and common sense.
In another dumbed down summer, “The Island” has the temerity to trot out a few big ideas, like the ethics of cloning and the perils of a state-controlled society. But its grand ambitions can’t hide its failures of internal consistency.
Why, for example, do the corporate types operate so efficiently one minute then do their best Keystone Kops imitation the next? And the clones are supposed to be educated at a child’s level, but they behave mostly like adults with only a few moments of innocence meant for cheap laughs.
“The Island’s” sanitized world is a fascinating one, both visually novel and intriguing in its smallest details. But whenever it starts to resemble a fully realized sci-fi parable, “The Island’s” banal dialogue reminds us we’re in Bay country.
The romantic bond budding between the leads is as slick and emotionless as the gleaming cars Mr. Bay is so keen on blowing up. While Mr. McGregor makes for an appealing lead, Miss Johannson’s best work involves silent shots of her sumptuous features in repose.
“The Island” stands as Mr. Bay’s most mature work, but the poor fella can’t grow up fast enough to curb his cinematic excesses.