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Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Larry Crowne 

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

*

Stating that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is better than 2009's infamous Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a futile declaration best left for mathematicians to ponder, as only they might care to take the time to calculate the minuscule percentage that was necessary for this to emerge, uh, superior to its predecessor.

2007's Transformers contained enough flashes of warmth, emotion and workable humor to catch many critics off guard, but all that goodwill dissipated with the release of the first sequel, which one scribe -- oh, yeah, me -- described as "the filmic equivalent of a 150-minute waterboarding session." This latest franchise filler is just as soulless, cynical and stupid (and five minutes longer!), with director Michael Bay no longer even pretending to care about anything but breaking his own box office records.

Featuring the summer's second rewriting of U.S. history (the concept was better handled with X-Men: First Class's Cuban Missile Crisis episode), this film reveals that the real reason the astronauts landed on the moon back in 1969 was to check out an alien construct (hence the title) that turned out to be tied into the long-running intergalactic battle between the Autobots (good Transformers) and Decepticons (bad Transformers).

After much exposition (culminating in a sellout appearance by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin), the plot carries us to the present day, where the nerdy Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) again has an only-in-the-movies supermodel-esque girlfriend, Carly (played by Victoria's Secret supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, replacing Megan Fox as the requisite sex object).

Sam's mother (Julie White) disturbingly surmises that her son must have a big schlong in order to land such hot girlfriends, while his father (Kevin Dunn) is concerned that he has no job. He finally acquires one, working for an eccentric CEO (John Malkovich); Carly, meanwhile, is employed by a wealthy slug (Patrick Dempsey) whose mere presence makes Sam jealous. But this boy has no time for such high-school hijinks, as he soon discovers that the Decepticons have returned with another plan to take over our world.

Before long, Sam soon finds himself fighting alongside other returning characters (Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro) plus one newcomer (Frances "Are you kidding me?" McDormand), as well as the Autobots: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide, Sleepy, Bashful and Dopey.

Bay's fascistic tendencies aren't quite as pronounced as in the last installment (though there is an appearance by Fox storm trooper Bill O'Reilly as himself), but there isn't anything this man won't do for the sake of arousing himself, be it an establishing shot of Carly that solely captures her 3-D-enhanced ass or a scene in which a little girl unknowingly plays tea party with a disguised Decepticon who then leaps up and murders her mom and dad. From start to finish, it's a miserable viewing experience, and the robot slugfests are once again incoherent and endless.

So why is Dark of the Moon better than Revenge of the Fallen? Two reasons. First, there's an Inception-like sequence (right down to similar music) involving a folded building that's pretty cool. And second, unlike its predecessor, there are no shots of Transformer testicles.

LARRY CROWNE

*1/2

The new seriocomedy Larry Crowne opens with Tom Hanks' title character taking so much grinning-idiot pleasure in his job at a retail box store (he's even cheerful when wiping a kid's vomit off the mechanical horse out front) that we momentarily suspect the actor has elected to revive Forrest Gump in an unauthorized sequel.

But no, Larry Crowne is just that kind of guy -- jovial, hardworking, uncomplaining -- which makes it a shocker (at least to him) when he's downsized by a group of corporate caricatures (in a wretched scene played partly for nonexistent laughs) who state that his lack of education makes him expendable in modern-day America.

After failing to land another job, Larry decides to go back to school, only it was a helluva lot more fun when Rodney's Dangerfield's Thornton Melon chose this route 25 years ago. Larry's escapades at the local community college are, like practically everything else in this film, barely perfunctory as narrative and wholly lacking in any sort of dramatic conflict.

Positioned as a picture about how it's possible to still succeed in a country that's been destroyed by rising unemployment rates and soaring gasoline prices, Larry Crowne actually has little basis in reality, with Hanks' "don't worry, be happy" protagonist sailing from one existential uptick after another. Larry, only slightly less square than Napoleon Dynamite, catches the eye of the hottest girl at the college (lively Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who of course devotes all her free time to dressing him in hip clothes, straightening up his house, and putt-putting around with him on scooters.

He aces his classes, with the other students all gushing over his undeniable genius. And he even cracks the unhappy veneer of one of his teachers, who's miserable because her husband (Bryan Cranston) spends all day looking at naughty photos on the Internet instead of working (this movie is so timid and afraid to offend that he's not even looking at hardcore porn, just big-breasted women in bikinis).

Julia Roberts plays this tortured, hard-drinking instructor, and her character is the one most crippled by the feebleness of the script co-written by Hanks and My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos. The domestic scenes involving her spouse are undeveloped and unconvincing, as is the notion that she's supposed to be a lush beaten down by limited opportunities (Bad Teacher's Cameron Diaz was far more believable in this respect).

Life only becomes bearable when Larry begins wooing her, beaming at her from his classroom desk and sharing chaste kisses outside her home. Roberts hasn't been given many opportunities these years to show off her talents, and this picture does little to reverse that trend: Like everyone else in Larry Crowne, she's only on hand to lavish praise on a dull character who's hardly worth having his own motion picture.

 

 

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