18, 25, 36, 59, 46, 12. No, not lottery numbers. Opening weekend figures (in millions, naturally) for Michael Bay's six movies to date. And yes, they're in order. That slightly stinky 12 is for The Island, Bay's first film away from super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and under Spielberg's DreamWorks umbrella instead. So much for Bay's `Trust the box-office' philosophy. It seems US audiences were somewhat underwhelmed by the wham-bam auteur's latest offering. Or maybe they were just confused by the trailer (The Island! There is no island! Oh, okay then).
Which is a shame because this isn't bad at all. It may not live up to its Bay with brains pre-release hype (who said that?) but there's much fun to be had from Logan 5's - apologies, Lincoln Six-Echo's - misadventures. Sure, there is a sense of déjà vu to nearly every scene (It's Logan's Run, it's THX 1138, it's... Minority Report!) but the whole thing's slick and enthusiastic enough for that not to matter too much.
The first 40 minutes, in fact, are distinctly un-Bay - calm, almost foreboding, as Lincoln, courtesy of a small moth, a large dose of curiosity and some sage advice from booze and porn fan McCord (Steve Buscemi) starts to doubt the reality of The Island and question the nature of his own existence. Which, to be fair, you would do too if you lived in the perfume commercial Lincoln and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) find themselves in.
All desaturated colours and whooshing doors, white spaces and cold architecture, it looks like the setting for a moody sci-fi parable. But remember, this is a Michael Bay film...
Why are we here? What's it all about? Are we simply pawns in the greater scheme of things? These are all questions that might have been asked. Unfortunately, if they were, they were drowned out by the sound of helicopters. Because after the promising build-up, it's time for a chase scene. And for Bay, that means helicopters. Lots of them. The man seems to have a fetish for rotor blades that rivals Tarantino's love of feet. From now until the end of the picture, you're never too far from some whirlybird action.
So, following the now-accepted Hollywood wisdom that more is more, the resulting mid-section is made up of action sequences. Some of them are breathtakingly fun, such as the freeway race where Lincoln deters the pack of chasing bad guys by offloading mammoth railroad wheels into their path (picture Bad Boys II's car carnage - only bigger). Or the bit where our heroes ride a flying motorbike through an office block (don't ask...).
But there's only so much action you can take before videogame syndrome takes over and whole minutes pass before you realise you haven't been paying any attention.
The final third goes on far too long but does calm down a bit. Well, actually, not much, even though the leads gamely try to keep the audience locked in. McGregor is excellent, especially in the scenes with his sinister other self. Whether required to be naïve and driven or sleazy and assured, he manages both with aplomb. While Johansson's two tasks are to appear vacuous and/or stunning. She also manages both. Especially the stunning.
All the supports are solid. Buscemi, predictably. Duncan, with little material but a gutwrenching scene that is genuinely unsettling. Meanwhile, Djimon Hounsou has clearly been instructed to bring some gravitas to proceedings, which he almost manages despite a paucity of decent dialogue. Even Sean Bean's not bad (until he has a bit of emoting to do near the end).
The problem, essentially, is the script, which, while slick, has no soul. Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci previously worked on TV's Alias and, as with that show, what resembles a layered plot is ultimately revealed to be just layers of gloss.
For the most part, this almost suits the ad-slickness of a film where the cinematography feels like it's all been done in Photoshop. But there are a couple of clunking moments where Bay tritely alludes to gas chambers and concentration camps. Like DreamWorks' other recent offering, the shoed-in allegories sit uncomfortably in what is otherwise decent popcorn fare. Unlike War Of The Worlds, however, The Island does maintain a sense of humour. And is not totally without insight into the human condition: as McCord wisely says, "Never give a woman your credit card."
Superficially smarter than previous Bay movies, this is still big, stupid, spectacular fun. Shave off half an hour and you could add a star.