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The Island – give the brain cells a night off – pure Hollywood

Send in the clones

Send in the clones

The Island – Director Michael Bay

Pure Hollywood. With all that means. Good and bad. A good idea, pared down to the bare essentials; razor-sharp editing, some of the best choreographed action sequences to date; and good performances.

May knows how to make a satisfying commercial product. Thankfully this is more The Rock than the execrable Pearl Harbour. After a slow burn, Matrix-y build-up, The Island delivers a non-stop adrenalin rush from about 40 minutes in, which displays wit and style in superbly realised chase mayhem that avoids visual cliché by sheer professionalism of execution. As with The Rock, May builds an exciting, relentless pace, driven forward by a pounding score. Subtle it ain’t – but it works. An edge-of-the-seat, excellent ‘trash’ movie that, unlike The Matrix, sheds its skimpy intellectual pretensions early on.

May certainly assembles technical talent up to the task. Editors Paul Rubell (Collateral, The Insider) and Christian Wagner (The Negiotiator, Die Another Day); Special Effects H Barclay Aaris (The Perfect Storm, Spider Man); and cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Training Day, Get Carter). All this collective talent is on screen to see.

Sean Bean’s suavely spooky Merrick, has created a corporate clone factory to harvest body parts for wealthy clients dodging the Grim Reaper. Sure-as-hell puts a new spin on the term ‘Life Insurance’. For public consumption, these spare parts clones are non-conscious tissue vegetables. As there is always a stingy, buzzy vicious little wasp in every man-made paradise, here it turns out the organs of PVS veggies, go off unless grown into real humans with some form of ersatz life. Bummer. In the true tradition of the Friday Austin Allegro, MacGregor’s Lincoln 6 Echo (even sounds like a car) model line got screwed up with an unplanned curiosity feature programmed in, which soon starts killing more than cats.

All the clones are given a phoney memory life and are strictly monitored for any touchy-feely nonsense, which seems a bit mean-spirited given their pretty dire altruistic destiny. Like having the cat ‘done’ before he’s scouted an alley or two. Lincoln 6 starts getting too chummy with Johanssen’s Jordan 2 Delta – and what red-blooded clone wouldn’t? (Shame about the name for Brit audiences – wrong resonance altogether) Social stability and induced passivity, are achieved by a back-story of a massive lethal contamination of the real world, which keeps everyone safely home. They are docile and expectantly glued to a TV ‘Lottery’ – the first, and last ever, prize of which is a trip to The Island, which looks like a perfect tropical idyll – so positively no British tourists. In reality of course this means their genetic, designer human offal is up for grabs and the wealthy owner is coming to dinner. Same old story: heading expectantly for a beautiful sunny island, seeing nothing at all, and ending up trashed on the floor.

Smartass Lincoln 6, finding an uncontaminated moth that has fluttered in from the supposedly toxic outside world, starts exercising his design-fault clone curiosity. Following the moth out, he discovers the horrifying truth of The Island myth and rescues Jordan from her just announced terminal vacation. The fugitives are helped by another of Steve Buscemi’s delicious, lank-haired, sleazeballs with a heart, which he at least gets to keep.

Once the virgin clones are out, (that bastard Merrick left the sex out), the movie kicks in like a top-of-the-range Harley. Although supposedly pre-programmed with the mental furniture of a docile 15 year-old, Lincoln 6 discovers he has acquired all the abilities and skills of his clone-father, speed-freak architect Tom Lincoln. Jordan’s missed trip to The Island was caused by the massive accident to clone-mother super-model Sarah Jordan, claiming under her policy for heart, lungs, liver, and any other spare bits not excluded by the policy small print.

They contact Tom Lincoln, (double bubble Ewan for his non-Obi Wan female fans), who snidily offers to help, but then selfishly shops them to the ludicrously over-equipped small army pursuing them, led by cool mercenary Albert Laurent (the hypnotic Djimou Hounsou). In a Reservoir Dogs, 2-gun stand-off, cloned Ewan tricks Laurent into shooting the real Tom Lincoln dead. Having first, enterprisingly, parlayed their capacity for independent thought into a remarkably accomplished, first-time discovery of sex, the intrepid two return to battle with the evil Merrick and rescue their fellow clones from the ultimate holiday from hell.

This is all vastly entertaining tosh. MacGregor gets more assured with each film; and Johanssen is again delectable while she waits for a Sofia Copola to know how to use her embarrassment of talent, and not shoot her voyeuristically as a Marilyn Monroe clone – as we might say. But watch out for Djimon Hounsou – he has an extraordinary screen presence – so cool, it has ‘star’ written all over it.

A great night out – if you like going to the fair and running from one white-knuckle ride to the next. And for once the action sequences have real impact and at times, a kind of heart-stopping Harold Lloyd, farcical, stylish quality about them. If you like ‘em fast, furious, noisy and scary fun – enjoy. Give the brain-cells a well-deserved night off.

(August 2005)

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