My Michael Bay Apostasy

From Thompson on Hollywood:

Admittedly, peer pressure and summer rain are usually the only things that get me into the cinema for a Bay movie. In any other situation, my ten bucks seem better off devoted to getting ice cream, or paying someone on the street to yell in my face. On a fuzzy Sunday when all you want to do is lay on your couch, though, the films’ smooth, almost unconscious forward propulsion is satisfying, even soothing. No commitment is required to watch a Michael Bay film: they are the one-night stands of the cinema.

Take The Rock (1996), Bay’s inversion of the “escape from Alcatraz” model, in which Nic Cage and Sean Connery infiltrate the island prison to combat domestic terrorists threatening San Francisco with nerve gas. It’s a film I’m always delighted to find on cable. Because it’s so reliant on the geography of secret passageways and escape hatches, Bay limits his cutting to what’s necessary. Volume turned down a notch, it becomes a great cat-and-mouse game, heavy on suspense yet wryly written. Sneaking around to avoid detection, contained in small, dim spaces, Cage and Connery achieve a tense quiet, without trickery or forced technique...

I can’t say the same about Pearl Harbor, the exception that proves the rule. The purpose of the film, I suspect, is Bay’s self-conscious Spielberg moment, an interminable take on the 1941 attack that has none of the raw emotion and pure fear of the virtuosic opening to Saving Private Ryan. Pearl Harbor devotes about as much time, however, to the saccharine Ben Affleck - Josh Hartnett - Kate Beckinsale love triangle, which as both narrative convention and character arc is a sorry excuse for romance. Watching Pearl Harbor, I was reminded that television and a hangover can hide a general lack of taste that seems glaring on the big screen. As for Bay telling a good love story? I may have to start drinking again to make that one fly.

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