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Michael Baywatch: Let the 'Transformers' bashing begin


The knives were out for Michael Bay's new "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" long before the movie opened with a roar, doing $60.6 million in its Wednesday showings alone, which is some sort of record, putting the film on track to make somewhere between $150 and $175 million in its five-day weekend run.

This is great news for Bay, who has a huge cut of the profits from the film (he's said he made $75 million from the grosses and merchandising product of the first film). On the other hand, this is bad news for critics, who pretty much all agreed that the movie is bloated, excessive or incomprehensible -- or all three. It earned a minuscule 22 on Rotten Tomatoes, an even lower score than turkeys like "Land of the Lost" or Eddie Murphy's "Imagine That."

No one put it better than Roger Ebert, who declared: "The movie is pretty much all climax. The Autobots and Decepticons must not have read the warning label on their Viagra. At last we see what a four-hour erection looks like." (Critics are always at their best when they return from a film that feels like it was made just to insult their intelligence.)

I'm sure Bay is taking it all in stride, since like his mentor, Jerry Bruckheimer, he's never sought out or particularly cared about critical accolades. As Bay told the Guardian the other day: "Look, it's easy to go shoot an art movie on a winery in the South of France. But people have no idea how hard it is to create something like 'Transformers.' These movies are a totally different animal." (I don't know about you, but I'm guessing the animal is a woolly mammoth.)

So instead of bashing Bay's movies, the guys at Screen Junkies had a great idea. Inspired by the nasty e-mail Bay recently sent Paramount, criticizing the studio for not spending enough dough to promote his film, they dreamed up other possible tirades Bay might unleash, calling it Angry Letters From Michael Bay. It's a hoot. One mock e-mail is from Bay to a hot chick who turned him down for a second date ("I apologize again for screaming at the waiter. Sometimes you have to do that if you want to get a fork at a Japanese restaurant"). Another is a nasty note to Westwood Custom Auto, grousing about the half-baked Shark Car they created for him ("A 'shark car' should inspire fear and be fueled by nightmares. This thing inspired neighborhood kids to throw rocks at me").

But the best one is his unhappy response to a decidedly unimpressive dinner at Teriyaki Zen restaurant, which didn't deliver the goods at all, especially when it came to its grilling technique. As Bay complains: "The chef you chose to hire was only capable of casting a pillar of flame five feet into the air. That's a joke. FIVE FEET OF FLAME IS NOT A SPECTACLE. I've ignited farts larger than that.... Is your restaurant running low on accelerant? If so, I will happily provide. I think I know a thing or two about how to create an explosion." 

Photo of Michael Bay by Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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I reluctantly admit that Bay is right about one thing, it is harder to make an action film than an art house film as those of us who tried to do it when we were in high school in the Sixties very quickly found out, but those who stuck with it also learned how to do it well, like Spielberg or John Carpenter. Unfortunately, there's nobody who knows how to do it well is being allowed to make such films today and between contemporary audiences not being exposed to the really great action films of the past, and the contempt for such films by critics of the last 40 years, there's really no encouragement to try to make better ones and the apparent success of this new TRANSFORMERS will only encourage more excretions from the likes of Bay, Rob Cohen, and Renny Harlin.

Rick Mitchell
Film Editor/Film Historian

Undeniably gifted in crafting sharp visuals and complex action sequences, Bay remains astonishingly unsophisticated when it comes to substance and emotional tone for someone with his background and creative credentials.

His sense of humor is crude and vulgar, and his attitude toward women is juvenile and offensively objectified. No wonder he has no lasting female relationships apart from his mother.

"Transformers: Return of the Fallen" was, ultimately, tediously loud and weirdly uninvolving.

Mr. Bay can point to the money his movies have raked in as justification for his stubborn refusal to grow in any way that isn't merely technological, but not unlike any other uncouth, coarse man who finds validation in his financial wealth, he clings to the worst, most boorish qualities of what used to be described as the nouveau riche.

He's like the Broderick Crawford character in "Born Yesterday."


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