Thursday, July 21, 2005

MISSION ABORTED

Posted on Thu, Jul 21, 2005 at 4:00 AM

**

The Island
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
Rated: PG-13
Website: http://www.theisland-themovie.com/
Release Date: 2005-07-22
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
WorkNameSort: Island, The
Our Rating: 2.00

I hadn't realized it until now, but one of the worst aspects of the fundamentalist right's assault on rational thought is that you can't even enjoy a cheesy science-fiction flick anymore without feeling co-opted. Sure, the theme of Science Gone Too Far has been a storytelling staple since time immemorial, but it's getting harder to root for a heroic clone character and not worry that you're being tricked into cheering on a metaphoric fetus or stem-cell line that just wants to go on "living." I could be overreacting, but Michael J. Fox should probably avoid appearing in any mad-scientist movies for a while, just in case.

Not that this dilemma is apparent at the outset of The Island, which starts its sad, messy life as a pleasantly derivative medley of Logan's Run, THX-1138 and an Obsession for Men ad. A bunch of identically attired, fit-looking humanoids live, work and swim in a self-contained protection zone, hiding from an outside world that's supposedly "contaminated." The best they can hope for is winning a hugely popular lottery wherein the top prize is relocation to a pathogen-free paradise known as "the island."

In truth, these solid citizens – Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are the cutest of the lot, and thus our heroes – are clones being bred in a medical/industrial facility for purposes of organ harvesting. Mr. and Ms. Hand-Me-Down Genes bust out of their mink-lined prison – and that's when the whole thing gets troubling. The clones start babbling about their "right to life," while the rich, amoral humans who have ordered their creation (and the scientists who have brought it about) are routinely pilloried by the script as being Against God. Uh oh.

You may almost miss the agenda, given how readily the movie substitutes high-octane highway pursuit for its initial stylized dystopianisms. Given a chance, director Michael Bay would put a car chase into The Merchant of Venice, so it's no surprise that he proves eager to shoehorn two of them into Logan's Run. But whenever the tires stop screeching, we're hurtled from the dumb to the evil. The McGregor character's human counterpart, see, needs a clone as an insurance policy because he's suffering from sexually transmitted hepatitis (read: AIDS). "Serves him right," we're meant to think as the more virtuous clones – who don't know jack about doing the Dirty Deed – pick up just enough knowledge of armed self-defense to mount a mean-ass escape from the scientists' rent-a-cops.

Along the way, Johansson learns that her "benefactor" is a mama who's facing certain death due to a tragic (but in no way self-invited) set of infirmities. That would seem to invite a spirited debate as to which woman has the greater right to exist, right? No dice: The quandary is totally ignored in favor of more breathless derring-do. If and when Johansson completes her desperate flight toward freedom – which we're called upon again and again to champion – that poor woman in the hospital bed is going to be out of luck. In the future Michael Bay anticipates, it seems, there is no exception for saving the life of the mother.

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