GENRE: Rock ’em, sock ’em robots
THE PITCH: The Autobots, those heroic space robots, must protect Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) from the evil Decepticons when the all-American teen journeys from college campus to Egyptian desert to find an Earth-shaking artifact called the Matrix of Leadership. No, really.
MONEY SHOTS: Cool robot shapes include a mechanical tiger; a parasitical satellite; a flat, origami-like thief; and the giant Devastator made of multiple pieces of construction equipment. Decepticons rain from the sky and destroy an aircraft carrier. Some of the battles are great in theory — like Autobot leader Optimus Prime brawling with three Decepticons in a forest — but the robots have so many moving parts, and there’s so much editing and camera movement that watching the fight scenes is like trying to watch rollercoasters screw.
WORST LINE: “You’ll always be my first car,” Sam tells the Camaro-robot Bumblebee in a dopey semi-break-up scene that is, nonetheless, less boring than a subplot over whether Sam will say “I love you” to his mechanically inclined girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).
MOST UNINTENTIONALLY FUNNY LINE: “Earth! Birthplace of the human race!” announces Optimus Prime in the film’s first words. But you could pick lines at random, and they’d still probably be pretty amusing.
MOST INTENTIONALLY FUNNY LINE: “What you are about to see is top secret. Don’t tell my mother,” announces John Turturro’s squirrelly spy-turned-conspiracy theorist. Turturro’s half-hinged performance is the film's cleverest, most focused quality.
BODY COUNT: Decepticon attacks on the human race cost more than 7,000 lives, according to a newscaster. Few humans are actually shown being killed, except for a caveman stomped in the prologue. The Transformers suffer various stabbings, shootings and smashings, but it’s hard to know what qualifies as a fatal injury for a hunk of metal.
FLESH FACTOR: Megan Fox wiggles into a short dress outside Sam’s garage. Suspiciously amorous co-ed Alice (Isabel Lucas) reveals a lot of thigh and cleavage. We actually see less of Fox or Lucas than we do of Turturro, thanks to a low-angle close-up of him wearing of his jockstrap — from both sides. (Good luck with that in IMAX.) Also: wrecking-ball-sized robot “scrotum.”
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Like the previous film, it’s practically a commercial for General Motors, so perhaps Josh Duhamel’s Autobot-saving U.S. commandos represent the government bailout. Sam misses his e-date with Mikaela via Cisco Webex. Mountain Dew is conspicuous in Sam’s college dorm, and his parents drink Budweiser in a Parisian café. Take that, Frenchy!
HOMAGES: A fragment of the otherworldly Allspark turns kitchen appliances into evil little robots in a clear lift from Gremlins. Bumblebee speaks mostly in song snippets and movie quotes, including two Tom Hanks films. Director Michael Bay shamelessly — even for him — uses a poster for his Bad Boys 2 as a prop.
POLITICALLY CORRECT? The sexist leering over Fox’s whorey outfits and makeup gives way to outright misogyny in its mean-spirited depiction of sluttish Alice and Sam’s moronic mom. It also indulges in jaw-dropping racial stereotypes with two jive-talkin’, buck-toothed, pop-eyed Autobots named Mudflap and Skids.
BETTER THAN THE FIRST ONE? No. Bay’s original Transformers was hardly an exercise in subtlety, but at least it offered a sense of discovery, built some genuine suspense, and showed some things you’d never seen in a movie before. At once sillier and more pompous, the sequel makes a chaotic hash of things from practically the first scene and draws out for two and a half deafening hours.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Opting for loud, grating comedy and incoherent action scenes, Bay steamrolls over his human and mechanical cast members alike. If you wonder just how stupid Hollywood thinks its audience is, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen provides your answer. If only it could transform into a movie that doesn’t suck.