Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Island

Illustration for article titled The Island

Thanks to The Passion Of The Christ, Fahrenheit 9/11, and a dizzying array of left-wing documentaries, 2004 may go down as the year the Culture War spilled into theaters. This summer, a surprising preponderance of popcorn fare has resonated with ham-fisted political overtones, from blockbusters that put George W. Bush's words into the sneering mouths of villains to The Island, an overblown science-fiction epic in which ostensibly unthinking, unfeeling stem-cell-like entities not only think and feel, but look and act like glamorous movie stars.

An overblown update of the 1979 cheapie Parts: The Clonus Horror, Michael Bay's first film without partner-in-crap Jerry Bruckheimer casts a slumming Ewan McGregor as a suspiciously spunky clone bred and engineered to be docile and unquestioning, so that he may one day achieve his life's goal of being picked to live in a blissful utopia called "The Island." McGregor and his peers occupy a Brave New World complete with requisite funky-ass tracksuits and fresh new sneakers, but what good are phat new kicks if they only come in one color? Such is the nature of McGregor's particular hell, whose antiseptic white interiors and orgy of shameless product placement suggests the bastard progeny of Stanley Kubrick and a high-powered team of viral marketers. Clearly a world in which a dude cannot kick back with a sixer of Budweiser, a porterhouse steak, and a Maxim is no kind of world at all. Like any red-blooded American clone, McGregor longs for more and better consumer choices, so he and his dim-witted platonic friend Scarlett Johansson bust out of the cloning facility and head to Los Angeles to find his human doppelgänger.

As usual, Bay stages the action at a breakneck pace that's never frenetic enough to obscure his film's plot holes and logical lapses. For instance, the cloning facility's evil overlords have created an elaborate cover story to keep the clones from knowing that they're being harvested for parts, but not one sophisticated enough to keep the naïve McGregor from easily uncovering its sinister secrets. McGregor similarly makes the leap from oblivious man-child to James Bond-like man of action within days, a development for which The Island can only find a half-assed rationale. McGregor at least fares better than Johansson, who, in her thankless role as the vapid clone of a supermodel, trades in her usual prickliness and fierce intelligence for a doe-eyed look of perpetual confusion. Johansson's dumb-blonde turn can perhaps most charitably be described as a feature-length homage to Suzanne Somers, though Johansson scores only marginally more screen time than her overworked stunt doubles. Clonus was forgotten by seemingly everyone other than MST3K—and, apparently, The Island's screenwriters. For all its sound and fury, The Island deserves the same reception.