Sci-fi's good setup comes crashing down in "The Island"
Longtime fans of the late-1960s British television series "The Prisoner" have been tantalized by occasional rumors of a film version of...
Special to The Seattle Times
Longtime fans of the late-1960s British television series "The Prisoner" have been tantalized by occasional rumors of a film version of that surreal show, which concerned the confinement of a secret agent in a quaint village where sunny manners and torture went hand-in-hand.
The engrossing first half of "The Island" may be the closest we ever come to seeing something like "The Prisoner" on the big screen. A weird portrait of a hidden dystopia where politeness is strictly enforced and residents are really captives of an elaborate conspiracy, "The Island's" early scenes are unlike anything big-budget, smash-'em-crash-'em director Michael Bay ("The Rock," "Armageddon") has done before.
Sans Bay's trademark car demolitions and nova-size explosions, "The Island's" setup teases with the mysterious rhythms of a gleaming, white-on-white environment that is clearly a prison for hundreds of unquestioning men and women.
Dwellers awake to find clean, white uniforms in their closets and computerized messages detailing their schedules and nutritional needs. Routine jobs are followed by optional downtime in a curiously antiseptic bar.
"The Island" with Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou. Directed by Michael Bay, written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Caspian Tredwell-Owen. 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexuality and language. Several theaters.
In this sunless, suggestively subterranean place, no one remembers his or her parents, and everyone religiously awaits an intermittent lottery that supposedly sends winners to a promised, island paradise.
Grim security personnel put the kibosh on lengthy interactions between opposite sexes, restraining the obvious chemistry between Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson). A smiling psychologist named Merrick (Sean Bean) pretends to care about the increasingly restless Lincoln, but he sadistically inserts painful probes through the young man's eye sockets.
Eventually, Lincoln and Jordan escape after discovering the truth about their lifelong home. (Far be it from me to spoil the surprise.) Once they're outside — in a dispiriting vision of our near-future — Bay falls back on his old playbook, creating more mayhem per square inch than in all his other movies combined.
Cars are crushed like soda cans. A sign, attached to a skyscraper and holding the fugitive Lincoln and Jordan, falls 70 or 80 stories. (The duo walk away, unscratched.) Stuff blows up. More stuff blows up.
For good measure, Bay lazily casts Steve Buscemi to provide the same sort of wisecracking shtick Buscemi shamelessly offered "Armageddon." Actor Djimon Hounsou lends his usual commanding bearing to a predictable part that tells us how to feel long after Bay has lost touch with the film's human factor.
On the plus side, several scenes in which McGregor (for reasons I can't disclose) acts opposite himself are dazzlingly, seamlessly well done. The computer effects involved are far more breathtaking than the instantly forgettable path of destruction that robs "The Island" of its initial promise.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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