'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'
2 out of 4 stars; 150 minutes; Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro; Now playing at the West Theater.
What do you do when you have a hit movie? Make it again.
Originality shifts out of sight as the sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," brings about the same old story, fresh off the line.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is just like any all-American young man heading off to college, leaving behind a beautiful girlfriend (Megan Fox) who's committed to him, empty nester parents (Kevin Dunn, Julie White) and, oh yeah, an alien living in his garage, posing as a Camaro.
Although normality no longer applies in his life, Sam wants to at least give it a try at an East Coast school.
But fate has different plans.
The robotic race the Autobots have joined forces with the U.S. government to ensure the riddance of their nemeses, the malevolent Decepticons, and they need Sam's help.
A plea from Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) doesn't convince the new college student, but when Sam begins hearing voices and seeing strange symbols in his head, he realizes he can't escape his part in saving the world.
Of course, resurrected Decepticon chief Megatron (Hugo Weaving) has his own nefarious plot.
Whether he's spazzing out in astronomy class or facing off against adversaries 20 feet taller than he, LaBeouf is easily the only actor who could ever portray Sam, who has become nearly as tied in to the franchise as his gigantic, metallic friends.
Unfortunately, Fox - a real spark plug in the first film as Sam's girlfriend, Mikaela - is reduced to a tame, rather naggy role, as her biggest struggle seems to be breaking out of the long-distance stage of the couple's relationship. A few too many slow-mo chase sequences highlight the tastelessness of what she brings to the table, and these assets reside in her shirt.
She deserves a better, less manipulative focus, but then the same would have to be done for Isabel Lucas, who plays a comely co-ed who refuses to take Sam's refusal seriously.
It gets pretty sleazy to say the least.
Conversely, Dunn and White receive more attention as Sam's bickering, but loving parents.
Let's face it, though: Most of the audience wants to see Autobot action, and Optimus Prime never disappoints, nor does his evil equal in power, Megatron. What does fall through the cracks is the seemingly endless line-up on both sides: Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet, Starscream and Soundwave are welcome returners, but blithering idiots Mudflap and Skids are galling beyond belief, even downright offensive. Then there's Megatron's superior, known only as "The Fallen."
Well, the subtitle had to come from somewhere.
Deep in the metal casing of the first "Transformers" film was a human heart beat, making for a watchable, occasionally moving action flick. That heart is still going two years later, but the pulse is noticeably weaker. This time around, it's more about stagnant catchphrases and sex appeal.
In other words, business as usual for director Michael Bay.
With Steven Spielberg as his co-producer, Bay has a respectable role model to look up to for decent story presentation, but he insists on going back to what he knows best: explosions and complicated camera angles. Even those are a little sloppy, with the editing visibly detracting from the flesh and steel characters.
There's just too much going on as the plot becomes more and more convoluted and the body count keeps growing exponentially. If there were more substance to the action, it wouldn't all ring so hollow, but a few scenes barely make sense in terms of canon.
Still, a fighter jet morphing into a crabby robot that produces a parachute must make somebody laugh. Anybody want to brag about that?
One rule for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" holds up.
If you can keep up with the break-neck pace and bewildering storyline, enjoy it. If not, at least try not to get whiplash.
Now playing at the West Theater.