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MOVIE REVIEW 'The Island' is visually pleasing, but shallow plot disappoints



Published: Thu, July 21, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



There aren't a lot of surprises -- we know most of them going into the film.

By ROBERT W. BUTLER

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

"The Island" starts out as a passably good sci-fi flick.

Then it turns into a Michael Bay movie.

A Michael Bay movie is by definition good-looking (Bay is a former ad guy and exacting about the visuals he puts up on the screen), dramatically suspect (he likes to introduce big issues, then trivialize them) and action-oriented (something big is always blowing up).

The first hour or so of "The Island" is set in a hermetically sealed futuristic complex where hundreds of men and women wear identical outfits, work high-tech jobs, are forbidden to have sex (hall monitors enforce "proximity" rules) and await each day's lottery announcement.

Lottery winners get a trip to The Island, a tropical paradise untouched by the environmental disaster that made the rest of Earth uninhabitable.

Except there is no Island. These people are clones, replicas of wealthy people who need replacement parts. Winning the lottery means a trip to the dissection lab, not an eternity at Club Med.

Send in the clones

At first Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) has no idea that he's a clone. (We do, since the film's ad campaign thoughtlessly gives away most of the big surprises before we get to the theater.) A curious sort given to exploring off-limit areas of the complex, Lincoln discovers that he was grown in a big plastic placenta, implanted with phony memories and is destined to become an organ donor.

So he makes a break with his friend Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson). Once outside they realize they've been prisoners in a subterranean complex beneath the Mojave Desert. Now, pursued by bounty hunters dispatched by the evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), they make their way to Los Angeles because ... well, I've forgotten why, although it probably has something to do with the L.A. freeway system, which allows Bay to stage a mind-blowing chase.

The stereotypical escape

Once in the City of Angels (which looks pretty much like today's L.A., only with more streamlined cars) the two fugitives manage to elude their pursuers (incompetent biker types led by Djimon Hounsou) and survive one close call after another.

We're told Lincoln and Jordan are only 3 years old and have been implanted with the intellects of 15-year-olds. Nevertheless, they effortlessly navigate the city, avoiding capture, commandeering cars and jet cycles and accessing complex communications systems. Oh, and they discover sex.

"The Island" echoes so many other movies you could do a graduate thesis on the sources raided by Bay and his screenwriters (Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). The short list includes "Logan's Run," "Coma," "THX 1138," "The Matrix" and especially 1979's low-budget "Parts: The Clonus Horror."

Misused actors

McGregor and Johansson are talented, charismatic performers, but their characters are essentially blank slates and not very interesting. You could do a pretty good movie just about the learning curve of artificial humans thrust into an unfamiliar environment ... but this isn't it.

McGregor, at least, gets to also portray Lincoln's "owner," a jaded playboy in need of a liver transplant. Johansson shows she can run in stiletto heels.

Steve Buscemi, as a non-clone worker in the complex, offers a few moments of levity in describing how society views these human Xeroxes: "Just because people want to eat the burger doesn't mean they want to meet the cow."

The film does introduce some thought-provoking issues about cloning and morality ... but thought is the last thing on "The Island's" mind. It's more interested in bang, boom, whiz and dialogue that runs to:

"Let's go!"

"Run!"

"Move!"

"Go! Go! Go!"

No problem. I'm out of here.




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