The Films of Michael Bay
Bad Boys II (July 16/03)
Michael Bay's made a career out of excess, and it's generally served him well. With the exception of his last film, the misguided but generally underrated Pearl Harbor, Bay seems to know exactly what audiences want and he's more than happy to deliver. But with Bad Boys 2, he's gone too far; the film, which runs close to 150 minutes, feels like a rough cut rather than a finished product. There are many sequences in the movie that feel as though they could've either been seriously edited down or eliminated altogether, it finally seems fairly clear that Bay had some kind of final cut clause in his contract. As a result, Bad Boys 2 is an occasionally entertaining but ultimately overlong and bloated summer action movie. Not helping matters is the fact that there isn't really enough plot here to sustain a two-and-a-half-hour movie, as the storyline essentially follows detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) as they attempt to take down a ruthless drug dealer (Jordi Molla's Johnny Tapia) and a shady Russian businessman (Peter Stormare's Alexei). And although Bad Boys 2 contains all the requisite ingredients for a big summer movie, including charismatic stars and plenty of action, the film is hindered by Bay's aggressively in-your-face directial choices and the aforementioned outrageous running time. For a while there, though, the movie is surprisingly entertaining; Smith and Lawrence have real chemistry together, and the script (penned by Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl) manages a nice balance of comedy and action. There's a great car chase in the first hour that almost makes the entire movie worth checking out, as Marcus and Mike go after a group of baddies in a Ferrari on a crowded highway. That sequence was exciting and well done, and the same can be said of a few other action set-pieces in the film's first half. It's also worth noting that the movie is surprisingly violent, especially in this day and age when most films are edited down from an R-rating to appeal to a wider audience. Characters are bloodily shot in the head, corpses are used for speed bumps; Bay seems out to prove that today's audiences are primed for films that don't cut away every time someone gets killed. It's around the midway point that Bad Boys 2 starts to become an exercise in patience more than anything else, however, as the repetitive nature of the film becomes a lot more noticeable: Marcus and Mike fight, go after bad guys, get chewed out by their captain (Joe Pantoliano, reprising his role from the original and stealing every single one of his scenes), and start fighting again. Even the action becomes tiresome after a while; that aforementioned car chase was certainly more than enough for one movie, but Bay throws in another long car chase (one that's far too reminiscent of a similar sequence within Jackie Chan's Police Story) which is admittedly well-executed but enough is enough. Even Bay's much-maligned Pearl Harbor never felt this long, and that's really saying something. As far as summer entertainment goes, you could probably do worse than Bad Boys 2. But had Bay submitted his film to test screenings (which I'm certain he didn't), there's no doubt it would be a heck of a lot better than it is. As it stands, it's mindless and loud - the only two ingredients a lot of folks seem to look for in big-budget flicks.
Transformers (June 29/07)
Logic suggests that even the most inept filmmaker would have a hard time turning a movie about enormous fighting robots into an unwatchable and flat-out dull piece of work, but that's precisely what Michael Bay has done with Transformers. By infusing the proceedings with his infamously over-the-top sensibilities, Bay has essentially stripped the Transformers of their inherent appeal; with the exception of Optimus Prime, none of these robots possess anything even resembling a memorable personality (although one of them, inexplicably, does seem to have overtly "black" speech patterns). Not that the humans fare much better; Bay, along with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, initially places the emphasis on uniformly uninteresting human figures and their respectively dull exploits, presumably in an effort to create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense around the titular creatures. It doesn't work in the slightest, as talented performers like Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, and John Turturro have been wedged into wafer-thin characters that certainly conform to overt stereotypes (ie the nerd-turned-hero, the quirky government agent, etc) but absolutely do not come off as actual people. The presence of several attractive but vacuous actors in key roles - ie Tyrese Gibson and Megan Fox - only exacerbates such problems, while Bay's penchant for pointlessly silly comedic cutaways remains as problematic as ever (Anthony Anderson as a legendary hacker? Really?) And while a few of the early action sequences are admittedly somewhat compelling - with an opening battle at a desert army base clearly the highlight - Bay's absolute inability to hold a shot for more than a few seconds, coupled with his relentless use of shaky camerawork, ultimately renders the majority of such moments meaningless. This is particularly true of the climactic duel between Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and Megatron (Hugo Weaving), which transpires on the streets of a busy metropolitan area. On paper, such a confrontation surely sounded like a can't-miss proposition; in Bay's hands, however, the duel quickly becomes an interminable, unintelligible affair, as even the most eagle-eyed viewer will be left baffled by the overwhelming jumble of computer-generated special effects. On a much more basic level, though, Transformers is simply unable to elicit a sense of awe or wonder in the viewer; there's virtually nothing distinguishing the film from any other loud and obnoxious summer movie, other than the fact that it's actually worse than most similarly-themed fare.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
A minor improvement over its nigh abominable predecessor, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen follows Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky as he finds himself once again embroiled in the ongoing battle between the peaceful Autobots and the villainous Decepticons - with the chaotic storyline kicked into gear after Sam inadvertently becomes a vessel for thousands of years worth of Cybertron history (thus paving the way for the return of a mythical transformer known as The Fallen). It's as convoluted a set-up as one might've expected based on both the original movie's trajectory and on filmmaker Michael Bay's admittedly consistent body of work, which - for better or worse - ensures that fans of this sort of thing will find exceedingly little to complain about (and, conversely, cements the film's failure among detractors). There's also little doubt that the movie is at its worst during its more overtly action-oriented moments, as Bay's notoriously kinetic directorial choices (ie rapid-fire editing, swooping camerawork, etc, etc) - coupled with the absurdly articulated nature of the title creatures - transforms such interludes into an almost meaningless jumble of colorful images (with the one exception to this a relatively decent fight scene that transpires within an open clearing). And while the cast boasts such genuinely talented folks as LaBeouf, John Turturro, and Josh Duhamel, Bay's relentlessly slick sensibilities leave the actors with little to do but wear expressions of either awe-struck fascination or horrified alarm (and it's not surprising to note that only Megan Fox seems completely at home within the pervasively inauthentic atmosphere). Despite its myriad of deficiencies (ie the presence of two jaw-droppingly racist bots, an ongoing emphasis on eye-rollingly juvenile instances of humor, etc, etc), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen generally remains far more watchable than it has any right to be - yet it's just as clear that the movie's ludicrous running time of 150 minutes (!) ensures that it runs out of steam somewhere around the halfway mark. The film's ridiculous overlength is never more evident than in the build-up to the frenetic climax, as scripters Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman pepper the proceedings with a whole host of superfluous elements - most of which, unfortunately, seem to involve Turturro's character - that seem to exist only to add needless minutes to the final product. The expectedly excessive battle that closes the movie only cements Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as a hopelessly overblown piece of work, and it ultimately goes without saying that films of this ilk should top out at 90 minutes (at the most).
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Transformers series comes to a merciful close with this hopelessly anticlimactic installment that is, as expected, just as underwhelming and unwatchable as its predecessors, with director Michael Bay's notorious (and pervasive) incompetence ensuring that the movie boasts exceedingly little in the way of positive attributes. The disastrously padded-out storyline, which basically follows Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) as he's forced to once again team up with the Autobots to defeat the Decepticons, is especially disappointing this time around, as the film kicks off with a surprisingly promising sequence detailing the title creatures' initial arrival in our atmosphere back in the early '60s. Bay, of course, squanders this opening by immediately segueing into a laughable early-morning encounter between Sam and his new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's Carly), with the filmmaker's slick sensibilities ensuring that this simple scene feels as though it'd be more at home within a Victoria's Secret commercial. From there, Transformers: Dark of the Moon improves slightly (yet temporarily) as the emphasis is placed on Sam's dogged job search - with the expected inclusion of needless subplots and periphery characters initially not as problematic as one might've feared. It does, however, become more and more difficult to overlook Bay's penchant for eye-rolling instances of comedy, with Ken Jeong's unreasonably over-the-top turn as Sam's paranoid coworker certainly emblematic of the film's questionable sense of humor. The meandering atmosphere, as a result, wreaks havoc on the movie's already-tenuous momentum, and one inevitably can't help but wish that Bay would just get on with it already - with the insurmountably overlong running time effectively (and palpably) draining the proceedings of its energy and ensuring that the action-packed third act comes off as a mind-numbingly tedious slog through gravity-defying special effects. The end result is a disastrous capper to one of the worst contemporary trilogies on record, and it ultimately goes without saying that Bay has, with all three of the movies, cemented his place as a seriously (and irredeemably) worthless mainstream filmmaker.
Pain & Gain
Apparently based on a true story, Pain & Gain follows three bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg's Daniel Lugo, Dwayne Johnson's Paul Doyle, and Anthony Mackie's Adrian Doorbal) as they conspire to kidnap a wealthy businessman (Tony Shalhoub's Victor Kershaw) and steal all his money - with problems naturally ensuing as the trio are faced with a variety of problems and issues in the crime's aftermath. It's an unabashedly lurid premise that is, at the outset, employed to unexpectedly engrossing effect by filmmaker Michael Bay, as the director's notoriously slick sensibilities prove an ideal match for Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's pervasively sensationalistic screenplay. It's clear, also, that the uniformly entertaining performances play a key role in cementing the movie's early success, with, in particular, Johnson's consistently mesmerizing turn as the dim-witted Doyle ranking as a highlight in both the proceedings and the actor's entire body of work. The frenetic narrative, perhaps inevitably, slowly-but-surely progresses from attention-grabbing to exhausting, however, and the viewer's interest, as a result, begins to wane somewhere around the one-hour mark and never completely recovers (ie it's all just too much, ultimately). And while it's admittedly rather impressive just how dark the story eventually becomes (ie this is a film that earns its R rating, to be sure), Pain & Gain, in the end, comes off as just another palpably excessive endeavor from a filmmaker lacking in anything resembling restraint - which is a shame, certainly, given the potential of the performances and the true-life storyline.