Transformers: Dark of the Moon: movie review

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Witwicky in this third installment, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon.'

Jaimie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures/AP
Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky in a scene from 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon.'

Sitting through 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” remains for me one of the signal bad experiences I’ve ever had at the movies, and that’s not even counting the jumbo Coke some patron accidentally spilled on me.

Given this history, I was fully steeled for Michael Bay’s 3-D follow-up, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third in this torture chamber of a movie franchise. I gave myself strict ground rules: Look away from the screen whenever the sensory overload is playing racquet ball with your neural circuits and clap your ears whenever they threaten to fry. Also, don’t even think about following the story line, which is nonexistent anyway, and just pray that you walk out of the movie as a reasonable facsimile of the person who walked into it.

Having survived, sort of, the new “Transformers,” I heartily recommend my ground rules to anybody in similar straits – which includes, I would imagine, anybody above the age of 9. If you don’t know the difference between an Autobot and a Decepticon – and after 154 minutes of this assaultive movie, I’m still not entirely sure – then steer clear.

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who at least is human (I think). His girlfriend, formerly played by Megan Fox, has been replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a plush-lipped Victoria Secret model with elocutionary skills somewhat below Judi Dench’s. Even though Sam received a medal from President Obama for saving the world (c.f. previous installment), he can’t find a job in Washington, D.C. – further proof that the recession isn’t over.

Meantime the Decepticons have their sights set on taking over Earth, especially Chicago, while good-guy Autobots (and they’re all guys, by the way) are aligned with us humans to defend truth, justice, and the American way. Except that some of the good bots morph into bad bots and vice versa. The bots all come color-coded, for easy parsing of goodness and badness – Megatron, for example, is black, while Optimus Prime is red and blue – but this doesn’t help much when wars erupt and shards start flying.

The unending “Transformers” mania, courtesy of Hasbro, began with the 1980s TV show and comics and toys. There must be something primal going on to explain its longevity. World-class marketing, perhaps? Whatever the cause, the movies do not signal, as some have reasonably suggested, the death of civilization as we know it, although they surely signal the death of movies with any kind of coherence.

The only saving grace is that this time around, the script (yes, there is one, and it was concocted by Ehren Kruger) has occasional wisps of lucidity, and Bay delivers – overdelivers – on the mayhem. He’s one of those directors who is more at home with gizmos than with people, which obviously stands him in good stead in Hollywood these days.

Fine actors like John Turturro and John Malkovich are encouraged to strip-mine the scenery. Frances McDormand, playing a government bigwig, can now rest content knowing she has given the worst performance of her career. (Not her fault, either.) Bay can’t even get Buzz Aldrin to perform credibly, and he’s playing himself.

Aldrin’s appearance, by the way, is linked to the film’s notion that the 1969 moon landing was actually a sidebar to a big war between good and bad bots on the dark side of the moon. (Memo to Hollywood: There is no such thing as the dark side of the moon, just the far side of the moon.) So maybe a subset of this film’s core audience can be added: 9-year-old conspiracy theorists. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality, and innuendo.)

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