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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Do Clones Dream of Electric Paradises?
by Donald Levit

The Island pressure cooks up the latent perils of medical research wedded to capitalism, the fear of death, childlike innocence and unbridled greed, all seasoned with the loudest of chase sequences, skyscraper escapades, grimy belowground industrial settings, and television-land’s present fascination with exotic islands, reality-survivor shows and, yes, lottery prizes. From his own story, Caspian Tredwell-Owen’s cowritten screenplay is a stew of many movies accelerating from early James Bond on, good, bad and middling, though few more openly aimed at the stomach of the undemanding, but ticket-buying, video-game generation.

The July 2019 world “contaminated” by unnamed cataclysm, mankind lives underground in sterile Centerville (filmed at a former NASA/Boeing site). Population augmented by an occasionally found “survivor,” their every function surveilled and instantly analyzed, people work at repetitious tasks, eat enhanced food in light-FM surroundings, and, in unisex white, are prepubescent innocent (it’s never clear how some very preggers women get in that family way).

All pin their hopes on The Lottery, whose prize is retirement on a paradisiacal isle that is the outside’s sole remaining safe haven (but truly a Pinocchio Pleasure Island). Reading from Dick and Sally primers, no one questions, although Jones Three Echo (Ethan Phillips) does try to suss out contest-winning combinations. His worktable-mate and friend, Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), is troubled by dreams of a woman in white, a sleek black boat, and “death” by water (get it? rebirth, reinforced by “Renovatio”), so is counseled by semi-shrink and vaguely head man Merrick (Sean Bean). He finds comfort in platonic lady friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) and male solace in boiler-room maintenance monkey McCord (Steve Buscemi), who slugs from a hip flask, advises do-nothing caution, and hints that he knows something.

A survivor moth from outside is trapped in a matchbox, then flies upwards, leading curious Lincoln in the same direction. Above, he enters the surgical section, there to discover that their lives below are a lie -- that, in fact, they are not precisely “people.”

Mum on egregious product placement, film publicity mouths concerns about science ethics, here in the case of multi-billion-dollar Merrick Biotech’s “life-death insurance agnate”-clones. Jordan in tow, the hero flees to Arizona aboveground, where McCord conveniently clarifies everything in sixty seconds and sends the couple to San Bernardino in search of Lincoln’s genetic “sponsor,” hepatitic, humanly selfish and finite, playboy speedboat designer Tom Lincoln (McGregor with glasses and libido).

The innocent are pursued by the usual hirelings, headed by bad guy with a Third-World-sense-of-justice Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou). Having restrained himself for forty-five minutes, director and coproducer Michael Bay now lets it fly, an hour-and-a-half of mayhem with monorails, fancy cars, eighteen-wheelers, flying “Wasp” cycles and attack choppers, all pretty sinisterly black. To the two-alone-on-a-boat conclusion ripped from Bond, the whole degenerates into cloned reductio ad absurdum compilation.

Appropriate to Alexandre Rockwell’s or the Coens’ darkly absurdist work, Buscemi’s humor is out of place in this one. Excessively praised for previous, non-physical outings, Johansson is only twenty and so tries her luck as an action heroine; not laughable only in comparison with Denise Richards’ leggy nuclear physicist Bond girl, her Jordan may prove a mere campy career bump. Broody Scotsman McGregor seems content for the moment to tread water in nothing more demanding than his Travolta-Cage face/off scene. In their defense, nothing actors could have done would have lifted this beyond video-game level. Bay wants audiences to “walk out of this movie thinking.” Grownups will exit thinking they need headache powders. 

(Released by Warner Bros./DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexuality and language.)

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