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Hollywood Product: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Flashy special effects can't save Michael Bay's latest in the Transformers franchise

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GENRE: Rock 'em sock 'em robots

THE PITCH: Big-rig robot Optimus Prime (the voice of Peter Cullen) and the righteous Autobots discover that the 1969 moon landing secretly discovered a spacecraft from the robots' home planet, which could hold the means for the evil Decepticons to conquer the Earth. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) whines about the challenge of finding a job out of college.

MONEY SHOTS: Give shlocky director Michael Bay props for crafting the some of the most lavishly destructive set pieces of his career. The opening shows a Star Wars-style battle on the robots' home planet of Cybertron. Decepticons roll up to assassinate venerable Autobot Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) on a busy highway. Nearly the final hour involves a spectacular siege of Chicago, and features soldiers skydiving between buildings and dodging death machines. A metallic kraken-like monster gradually topples a skycraper with Sam and the other good guys inside.

NOT-ENOUGH-MONEY SHOT: In a 1960s flashback, a CGI version of JFK looks like a render from the L.A. Noire video game. A highly annoying, fakey scene finds Sam hanging like a yo-yo from an angry Decepticon.

BEST LINE: "It's the Cyrillic alphabet! It's like all the buttons you never use on a calculator!" complains Dutch (Alan Tudyk), the fey, twitchy assistant complains to twitchier Agent Simmons (Jon Turturro).

WORST LINE: Either "What a gorgeous box" or "Tonight, I'll give you a job," both sophomoric double-entendres aimed toward Sam's new girlfriend Carly (Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Huntington-Whiteley replaces Megan Fox, who Bay fired from the previous films, but the new gal can't act and looks surprisingly plain, so she's not exactly an upgrade.

BODY COUNT: More than a dozen humans and robots, not counting the population of Chicago. A vulture-shaped Decepticon kills off humans by gunshot and/or pitching them out windows. The robots execute one another with surprising sadism, so you see robotic dismemberment, shots to the head and spines ripped out. The Decepticons even destroy one of our nation's capital's most beloved statues. Mean robots suck.

SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Linkin Park, which provides tunes for all three films, croons "Irisdiscent's" lyrics about "scenes of devastation" when Sam looks sad about scenes of actual devastation. It's like a tasteless joke.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Lousy with strategically placed brand names, the film most flagrantly flogs merchandise when Carly's boss (skeevy Patrick Dempsey) gives her a Mercedes SLS, and an indignant Sam looks the car up on Mercedes' website, for the convenience of wealthy car shoppers in the audience.

NOTABLE CAMEOS: The real Buzz Aldrin shows up and admits to Optimus Prime that the moon landing had a hidden agenda. Bill O'Reilly calls John Turturro's character a pinhead. It's kind of a cameo the way evil Megatron disguises himself as a weathered, bristling tanker truck out of The Road Warrior.

CLOSING CREDIT EXTRAS? No, so you don't need to sit through them. You do get to read the disclaimer, "The CNN journalist portrayed is a fictional character."

MAKE THE 3D UPGRADE? If you've got money to burn, yes. It's the most visually accomplished 3-D action film since Avatar. The 3-D forces Bay to slow down his hyperactive editing and camera work, although sometimes the actors stick out awkwardly, like they're standing in front of nonexistent backgrounds.

BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS ONES? It's longer yet feels shorter than its headache-inducing predecessor, Revenge of the Fallen. Dark of the Moon features the best action of the three movies, but 2007's original Transformers actually paid lip service to things like building mood and human emotions.

THE BOTTOM LINE (IF YOU LIKE DUMB MOVIES): Holy crap, the explosions and robot fights and flying stuff is soooo awesome! They spent like a zillion dollars on these effects, so it's all bang, ka-chow and those metallic robot noises! You totally get your money's worth!

THE BOTTOM LINE (IF YOU WANT SMART MOVIES): Transformers: Dark of the Moon is garish and vulgar all of the time, as well as being sexist, bigoted and homophobic some of the time. John Malkovich joins Turturro for some amusingly over-the-top acting, but LaBeouf pushes Sam's spazzy self-pity to intolerable heights. If Pixar's talking racecars and tow-trucks can have distinct personalities, why not Bay's talking alien robots?

Related Film

Official Site: www.TransformersMovie.com

Director: Michael Bay

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Peter Cullen and Tyrese Gibson

Related Film

Official Site: www.TransformersMovie.com

Director: Michael Bay

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Peter Cullen and Tyrese Gibson

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