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Buy Me a Liver

Photo by Doug HyunStop me if you’ve heard this one before. In the not-too-distant future, an unspecified ecological disaster has killed off most of Earth’s population and made the planet’s surface all but unlivable. A few hundred survivors have been transported to a state-of-the art fallout shelter where everyone dresses alike, sexual impulses are reduced to sub–Star Wars levels and a pleasing, disembodied female voice instructs: “Be polite, pleasant and peaceful. A healthy person is a happy person.” No, this isn’t a documentary about the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center — it’s Michael Bay’s The Island, a topical mix of science fact and science fiction whose title refers to the world’s last sliver of habitable land, passage to which is regulated by a supposedly random lottery. Only, in The Island, nothing is quite as it appears. The memories you think are your own really aren’t. The coveted Shangri-la is, like so many promised lands before it (both in real life and the movies), nothing more than a promise. And as for that lottery — well, let’s just say that when your number’s up, it really is up. None of which will come as much of a surprise to the seasoned genre enthusiast, who will immediately detect in Bay’s film the lipstick traces of 1984, Blade Runner, Gattaca,any number of old Star Trek episodesand, in particular, Logan’s Run, with its unflattering unisex costumes and quest for a panacea known as Sanctuary. But in Logan’s Run, you were at least allowed to live to see 30, whereas the “survivors” of The Island are offered no such guarantees. The thing they’ve survived, you see, isn’t global apocalypse, but an accelerated cloning process designed to manufacture human “insurance policies” for wealthy “sponsors.” (So perhaps it only makes sense that the movie itself is a clone.) Got a bad ticker? A terminal illness? Or merely concerned about not growing old gracefully? Just plunk a few million down and let the innovators at Merrick Biotech create a new you that can be harvested for spare parts when the need arises. And so it goes, until one subversive apple threatens to spoil the whole bunch — a clone called Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor), who, despite his petri-dish pedigree, possesses an ample helping of old-fashioned human curiosity. (Ample enough for him to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, at any rate, but not to ask where babies come from or why his name sounds like a telephone exchange.) Nary an original idea abounds in The Island, though the movie does entertain a litany of thorny moral quandaries that seem well-timed to the ongoing debates over stem-cell research and the direction of the Supreme Court. Not that Bay or his trio of screenwriters (Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) dig very deep beneath those ideas’ hot-button surfaces. The Island is the sort of picture that generates lots of pseudo think-pieces in the major newspapers and magazines, but doesn’t give you half as much pause to consider mankind’s future as, say, War of the Worlds. The only people who’ve endeavored to buy Merrick’s insurance policies are ones we’re supposed to spite anyway — vain and/or idly rich supermodels, celebrity footballers, Presidents of the United States — and not for a single moment does the movie dare to suggest how quickly, if eternal (or at least extended) life really were an opportunity, you and I might seize it.Which may be just as well. Though this is the first of Bay’s films to be made away from the Jerry Bruckheimer fold, aside from a few superficial details (not every image is tinted the same shade of supersaturated orange) it’s by and large the kind of picture he’s always made — a loud, steroidal adrenaline-pumper in which Bay proves yet again that when it comes to smashing, crashing and blowing things up real good, he has few equals. His onscreen destructiveness isn’t pretty or poetic, but it does carry a special exuberance, like the pleasure a child takes in destroying his own toys. And there are several set pieces here, as Lincoln and the beautiful Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) flee from their nefarious captors, that equal or exceed the high standard for action-movie auto-erotica set by Bay’s previous film, Bad Boys 2. Who other than Bay would have come up with the high-speed freeway chase in which Lincoln and Jordan lob what look like giant iron dumbbells at their pursuers (and anyone else who happens to get in the way) from the back of a speeding flatbed truck? And who else would have had so much fun doing it?Humanism, on the other hand, doesn’t suit Bay at all (see Pearl Harbor), and when The Island strives for seriousness — particularly in the opening and closing sequences set within the survivors’ bunker — it’s dead in the water. Bay seems bored with these scenes and the feeling is contagious, but in truth, the deck may be stacked against him from the start. The peculiar genius of the Matrix movies (at least of the first one) was how effectively they made us accept that petrified pearl of science-fiction wisdom that says man’s yen for nonconformity will ultimately trump all efforts to suppress it. The Island goes one step further, explaining that back before its clones were brought into a fully cognitive state, their organs did not long survive the transplantation process. Somehow, without real life experience, they simply weren’t “human” enough. But quite frankly, such notions seem less science fiction than out-and-out science fantasy in a world where the blue pill is so widely preferred to the red. We buy our Nikes, no matter the human flesh that is expended in their manufacture; we drive our SUVs, no matter the environmental consequences; we patronize Starbucks and Barnes & Noble at the expense of independent merchants. And we queue up in droves to see movies like The Island. THE ISLAND | Directed by MICHAEL BAY | Written by CASPIAN TREDWELL-OWEN, ALEX KURTZMAN and ROBERTO ORCI | Produced by WALTER F. PARKES, BAY and IAN BRYCE | Released by DreamWorks Pictures | Citywide


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