Well, perhaps it’s appropriate that a movie about clones should be a clone, too. (No one should complain that reviewers are spoiling anything by mentioning clones. The trailers that have been splashed across television screens for weeks give that story “secret” away unabashedly.) Michael Bay’s sleek but utterly bombastic and silly “The Island” is a virtual copy of Michael Anderson’s 1976 film of “Logan’s Run,” though the second-half chase is far more spectacular (though not entertainingly so) and the goal the escapees have in mind is different from Logan’s mythical Sanctuary. (In this case, in fact, it’s the poor viewers who need sanctuary from the excessive noise and visual chaos.) Actually, it’s oddly appropriate that the protagonist is named Lincoln Six Echo, because it allows one just to call the movie “Lincoln’s Run” and leave it at that. (One would like to think that the writers were sufficiently aware of their debt to have done this intentionally. But I doubt it.)
The movie opens in 2019, in a sterile underground community that’s supposedly the refuge of the survivors of some cataclysm that’s left the entire earth incapable of supporting life save for the titular paradise–to which some denizens of the shelter are occasionally chosen in a lottery to be transferred for a joyous life on the outside. Part laboratory workplace, part sterile mall, part hospital-like residence, the place is run under the watchful scrutiny of stern Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), who seems acutely concerned about his charges’ physical and psychological well-being. He notes that Lincoln (Ewan McGregor) is not only troubled by curious nightmares and eating too much sodium, but has become overly familiar with his beautiful fellow-citizen Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). What Merrick doesn’t know is that Lincoln has also become friendly with McCord (Steve Buscemi), a scruffy maintenance man who works in the innards of the complex–a friendship that’s put strange ideas into his head about the real condition of the outer world and the truth of the whole “island” scenario. Lincoln’s prying eventually leads him to the conclusion that the whole cover story is a myth, and he discovers that he, Jordan and most everybody else in the place is but a clone of somebody on the outside, ready to be harvested in the event of their model’s illness. When Jordan is chosen in the lottery–the mechanism by which the clones are weeded out for dismemberment, so their disappearance won’t be noticed–Lincoln acts. They escape the place together, and once in the real world search out McCord, who reluctantly explains the truth of their situation and helps them locate their “originals.” While they make their way to Lincoln’s rich owner Tom Lincoln (McGregor, again), a rich designer of speedboats, Merrick hires a heavy-duty mercenary (Djimon Hounsou) to track the duo down and either retrieve or eliminate them. Many chases and much mayhem ensue, with plenty of crosses and double-crosses thrown into the mix along the way.
There is, of course, a real ethical issue at the center of “The Island,” but it’s treated in so juvenile, comic-book a fashion that it quickly degenerates into nothing more than an excuse for mind-numbingly spurious excitement. Especially in the second half, the movie suffers from such a riot of strobe-light editing (by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner), over-fussy camerawork (by Mario Fiore), flashy action sequences and thunderous explosions (exacerbated by the remorseful pounding of Steve Jablonsky’s score) that it becomes not only ludicrous but insufferable–in other words, a typical example of Bay’s excess. (One immediately wonders why McCord didn’t suggest to Lincoln and Jordan that they abandon their plan to search out their purchasers–which seems a pretty dumb idea to start with–and instead beat a path to the New York Times, the way Robert Redford’s man-on-the-run did in “Three Days of the Condor.” That would have allowed for a lot less bang-up violence, of course, but it would have made a lot more sense.) There’s some very modest compensation in Buscemi’s characteristic shtick (even though the gay joke he must play with McGregor in a men’s room is a tawdry bit), and in the occasional line that’s unintentionally hilarious (as when Hounsou, after his team of SWAT-like minions have already blown up what seems like half of Los Angeles in their pursuit of the escapees, gets on the horn to inform his private army needlessly, “There’s no way to do this quietly”). Certainly the lead performances don’t offer much pleasure. McGregor evinces a sort of wide-eyed innocence that suits the clone, especially on the outside, and he seems to have fun playing it a bit sleazy as the wealthy Tom Lincoln, but he looks out of his depth in the big action scenes, which he seems to treat with a sort of bemusement that makes them even less convincing than they already are. Johansson is even more disappointing. Though initially she comes across as engagingly flippant, she fares less and less well as the plot grinds on and by the close has come to appear a rather dim bulb, though admittedly a bodacious one. Bean snarls his way through yet another Snidely Whiplash role, while Hounsou barely manages to retain his dignity in the stock part of the no-nonsense hunter. (Certainly he brings the role none of the goofy zest that Tommy Lee Jones did to his similar turn in “The Fugitive.”) And when somebody like Michael Clarke Duncan is effectively thrown away in what amounts to a cameo, you have to wonder whether the first director’s cut wasn’t much longer than the still oppressively overextended 136-minute release print.
There was a previous Hollywood thriller called “The Island,” of course–Michael Ritchie’s “pirates of the Caribbean” bomb of 1980, starring Michael Caine and based on a novel by Peter Benchley. It was awful, and this picture does the title no better. One of the restrictions placed on the clones in their limbo is that they shouldn’t become romantically involved, and when they’re getting too close to one another, the ubiquitous guards tell them to beware of “proximity.” That turns out to be good advice for anybody contemplating going to see Bay’s movie: avoid getting too close.