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MOVIE REVIEW

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Putting the ‘more’ in ‘more than meets the eye’

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / June 29, 2011

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Has there been a more categorically slutty movie than Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon’’? In the opening 75 of its 151 minutes, this happens: Apollo 11, Walter Cronkite, Neil Armstrong, Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Obama, Buzz Aldrin (in the flesh), the Middle East, Chernobyl, African Savanna, Shia LaBeouf, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Autobots, Decepticons, Bill O’Reilly, John Turturro, Hermes Birkin bags, the Department of Health and Human Services, and something called the Ark. The only restraint Bay exercises is not playing “We Didn’t Start the Fire’’ — and that’s only because, for him, it’d be untrue. He more than starts a fire. He concocts a climactic war that flattens downtown Chicago. Bay is such a little boy’s director. You know he picked that city because it’s the one with the best rock-’em-sock-’em street names. Wacker! Wabash!

In this new Transformers installment — we’re calling it “Toy Story 3’’ at my house — Bay takes “all over the map’’ to new extremes. Apparently Armstrong returned to Earth with a trinket crucial to the evil Decepticons’ master plan. (Says Neil: “My God, it’s some sort of giant metal face!’’) That moon-landing sequence is chased with a shot of a nearly nude derriere ascending a staircase (two moons). It belongs to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a blonde English fashion model who holds her close-ups the way some coeds hold their beer: She looks seasick. Which explains why her hair is often swept to one side. It’s in case she needs help in the ladies room. Bay’s a good girlfriend that way — one whose preference to clothe Huntington-Whiteley in minidresses and scoop-necks signifies a good girlfriend with ulterior motives. She’s a replacement for Megan Fox, who is Judi Dench by comparison.

The last half hinges on her rescue from an diabolically coiffed race-car obsessive (Dempsey), and, again, it’s the sort of cheesy heroism that only a man with an adolescent’s libido would risk his life to perform. Not to mention the lives of the troops backing him.

But LaBeouf is highly physical and crowd-pleasingly jerky as the little man and the fanchise’s centerpiece, Sam Witwicky. If all Tom Cruise consumed were juice boxes of Red Bull, LaBoeuf is who he’d be. He’s over-supported. Doing most of the talking in Transformers’ voices are Leonard Nimoy and, as the Peterbilt truck and leader of the Autobots, Peter Cullen. McDormand, Turturro, Malkovich (toothy, tan, and wonderfully terrible), Julie White, Kevin Dunn, Ken Jeong, and Alan Tudyk, take none of this seriously. That’s Bay’s job.

This is big fun if you don’t know or don’t care about all that the movie connects to: from September 11, 2001, to the Nazi occupation of Europe. Bay, of course, gets to play great liberator. Dame Fox was reportedly fired for comparing him, in the press, to Hitler. I imagine Bay fancies himself a General Patton. “Dark of the Moon’’ is more of his jingo porn. Those unaroused by Huntington-Whiteley will suffer internal erotic combustion over the revving motors, heavy metal, heavier artillery, and military muscle.

As usual, some of the egregiousness is mind-blowing: bodies sliding down the glass of a perilously canted skyscraper, say. And, for the first time, the Transformers themselves are almost beautiful to behold. Meanwhile, the airborne shots over Chicago more than justify the 3-D glasses.

“Dark of the Moon’’ is actually movie enough for 10 summers. Bay’s self-satisfaction at that achievement leaves distressingly little room for an emotional response to, say, all the dead bodies and human skulls we see. He isn’t simply great-directing, per se. He’s competing in the Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The more action sequences, locations, actors, historical events, machines, effects, monosyllables, weapons, and American-flag close-ups the movie shoves in its mouth and ours, the less we’re able to taste. That’s perfect for a director who continues to lack that sense.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter @wesley_morris.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON Directed by: Michael Bay

Written by: Ehren Kruger

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Duhamel, and John Turturro

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 151 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo)

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