Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, ...
Credit: The Island: Doug Hyun

In the future, according to the gobbledygook prospectus offered by the sci-fi/action thriller The Island, human clones known as agnates will be bred as insurance policies for rich people with millions available to spend per genetic duplicate pop. That way, if something unfortunate happens to Mr. or Ms. Moneybags — a defective liver, a bum ticker — he or she will be able to harvest what’s needed from the made-to-order backup and discard the rest. This is, of course, a terrible thing to do to an innocent agnate — who is a human being, after all, no matter how unromantic the biological conception or how oblivious the specimen to his or her purpose and fate on earth. Hath not a clone eyes? If you prick him, doth he not bleed through his sleek white Logan’s Run jumpsuit?

But all is not so forlorn in the near-futuristic scenario governed by director Michael Bay. While scientists are raising replicants in the images of humans as comely as Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson (it’s a little joke that she plays a clone of a model, har!) and indoctrinating them with the myth that they are the very special, sole survivors of a fatally contaminated universe, happy non-agnate children in the outside world still enjoy BEN & JERRY’S ice cream. Efficient, non-agnate adults can take advantage of the latest technological breakthroughs from MICROSOFT and NOKIA. And best of all, at least for lovers of stuff that blows up and kills people, there’s piles of it, going boom in SONY DIGITAL DYNAMIC SOUND (in selected theaters).

Are there really lovers of stuff that blows up and kills people anymore? Which is to say, are there any who actively look forward to a Michael Bay movie, in which vehicles race each other into oblivion, humans fight one another to death, destruction is wholesale, and no camera shot is held for more than three seconds? Are there moviegoers who are so satisfied with the stringing together of special-effects explosions (including, of course, the composite shot of a body hurled through fiery space) that they think, ”Dang, that’s what I call entertainment”? Or are we all just…lab rats, conditioned to think that this is what a big, American action picture looks like? Maybe we’re the agnates and Bay occupies the role played by Sean Bean, that of a nefarious genius of biogenetic engineering who has turned human complacency into big business?

I digress; time to adjust the serotonin levels. It’s agnates Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Johansson) we’re meant to care about, out of all the others in the spandex brigade, although screenwriters Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci sure don’t make the empathy easy. Lincoln’s a feisty one, full of beans and a few too many strands of wild-card DNA that are causing flare-ups of disturbing ”memories” and bad behavior; he’s a potential troublemaker, and while McGregor is allowed to stir and prowl in the first third of the movie (his discovery of the truth about agnate existence is a tingly moment of horror), he’s quickly relegated, in the other two-thirds, to oafish ejaculations of ”Go!” and ”Run!” and ”Hold on!” Jordan, on the other hand, is simply a generic lump of cells, with which Johansson can do little, wise-child eyes and all. When Lincoln urges Jordan to escape Agnateville with him, explaining that the contamination-free island holiday they’ve been promised is a hoax, or when a corporate security detail (headed by an ill-used Djimon Hounsou) comes after the two escapees, she responds like a — well, like a model posing for a cosmetics ad.

The Island is not without good questions (How far are you willing to go to protect your own good health? What does the phrase ”taking a dump in the can” suggest to someone who has never heard it before?) and even a few molecules of wit that pass like aberrations. With the appearance of Steve Buscemi, for instance, as a scraggly antiauthoritarian human worker at the clone house who befriends Lincoln at his peril, the script takes an incongruous detour toward playfulness. And Lincoln’s third-act encounter with his own progenitor is a tasty bit of high-concept fun for McGregor.

And then, boom! And ”Look out!” The Island begins with a whimper of interest as a cool-hued, cautionary exploration of the ethics of cloning, and ends, in a hail of product placement, with a dumb bang.

The Island
  • Movie
  • 138 minutes