THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN PLOT SPOILERS.
Apparently the original screenplay for THE ISLAND, credited to Caspian Tredwell-Owen, was
good enough to attract the attentions of Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks as well as actors Ewen
McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. But this futuristic thriller about cloning set in the 21st Century
underwent a sea change at the hands of Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, who are best known for their
work on the television series “ALIAS.” They moved the time frame up to 2019 and made other
significant alterations, resulting in an intriguing if not wholly successful science fiction action adventure.
Of course, a great deal of credit – or blame – for the film has to rest on the shoulders of director
Michael Bay, who apparently never passes up a chance for a car chase or an explosion.
The film begins promisingly in a hermetic world where the denizens dress alike in white jumpsuits
and sneakers and live in chrome and glass world where every move is analyzed. Residents eat what
is put in front of them, work at menial tasks, have no sex drive, and await a weekly announcement
for the winner of a lottery to go to "the island" – the one place left in the real world that is not
But all is not well in this Edenic place: one resident, Lincoln Three Echo (McGregor), is suffering
nightmares, in which his friend Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) appears. He thinks the dreams are
about his going to the titular place but he isn’t sure. When he’s confronted by the scientist who runs
this resort-like place – a Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean, effectively reprising any one of his previous villain
roles) – Lincoln becomes belligerent, demanding answers to various questions. He’s also developed
a curiosity that is supposedly beyond his capabilities. And we all know what curiosity did to the cat.
Lincoln Two Echo manages to uncover the truth – that there is no island and that he and his
fellow residents are nothing more than insurance policies for wealthy individuals. You see, in the near
future, if you have enough money, you can buy a clone that will be there if you need a spare body
part. (I guess, this precludes the idea of genetic disposition to certain illnesses.)
Since Jordan Two Delta has won the lottery to go to the island, time’s wasting, so Lincoln Two
Echo grabs his pal and they somehow manage to get loose in the real world. With an assist from
technician McCord (Steve Buscemi, providing some comic relief), the pair flee to Los Angeles –
via Amtrak! Once in the City of Angels, the duo search for Lincoln’s “sponsor.” Along the way, they
discover that Johansson’s “sponsor” is a famous model. (Bay utilizes product placement to the utmost
degree by including Johansson’s real Calvin Klein advertisement.) They must also outrun and outwit
a team of mercenaries hired by Merrick and headed by Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou), leading to
a series of car chases, shoot ‘em ups, and explosions. Bay is in his element in those sequences, but the
constant assault on the audience’s eardrums and eyes eventually renders the set pieces as nothing
more than filler.
More intriguing are the scenes that follow when the clones locate Tom Lincoln (McGregor again).
Tom is a Scottish wastrel whose liver will soon need replacing and while he pretends to help the
runaways, he’s actually plotting to turn them over to Merrick. The sight of watching McGregor act
opposite himself gives these scenes a nice bite. They also serve to remind the audience that McGregor
can be a superlative performer.
The third act is devoted mostly to revenge and it also allows Johansson to kick some butt as well.
If some of the scenes near the end look more like outtakes from a Coke commercial, well that’s in
keeping with the product placement throughout.
THE ISLAND is uneven at best. There are moments that work quite well, thanks in large part
to McGregor, Johansson and Buscemi. Hounsou doesn’t have much to do as the mercenary on their
tale until near the end, and even then it’s a matter of too little, too late. Provoking more head
scratching is the cameo appearance of Michael Clarke Duncan as one of the lucky clones who gets
called to the island only to realize it ain’t what he thought it would be. There’s barely a character for
him to play so his appearance in the film is negligible at best.
The ideas behind the film are promising, but somewhere along the line, someone decided
to cobble together as many clichés from science fiction as possible. Perhaps Bay sees them as an
homage to the classics of the genre, but I’d hardly call COMA, LOGAN’S RUN, THX 1138 or
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action,
some sexuality and language
Running time: 127 mins.
Viewed at the Regal Union Square Stadium 14
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.