'Island': Trouble in Paradise

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2005

THE BEST THING about "The Island" is this: Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, buffed and dressed in sparkling white, wondering how and when to kiss each other.

Go ahead, Ewan, mate. Plant a juicy one on those pink, upholstered chops. Hit that sensual airbag with everything you've got. Do it for Scotland, lad. Do it for mankind. And you, Miss Scarlett, with all those t's and s's in your bonnie names. Enjoy the moment. Close your eyes, Girl With a Pearl. That's Obi-Wan McNobi you're puckering up for.

Their hesitation to kiss, you see, comes from the fact they're playing harvested beings, or replicants -- to borrow a term from "Blade Runner," which Michael Bay's movie has ransacked like WorldCom's Bernard Ebbers. McGregor is a cloned human called Lincoln Six Echo, and Johansson, named Jordan Two Delta, is also a copy of someone else.

This is deep in the 21st century, and they're part of a colony housed in a massive facility overseen by -- who else? -- an Englishman by the name of Merrick (Sean Bean). Everyone is dressed in white and made to live in a state of comfortable incarceration because, they are told, the post-apocalyptic world outside is contaminated. Everyone is waiting for their big day when he or she is selected to live on the Island.

This resort, supposedly, is the only place on Earth where you can live outside. A lottery randomly selects candidates daily. Nobody realizes they are clones, but Lincoln is starting to question things. This is troublesome to the authorities, who watch their charges on monitors and look for any signs of, well, inconvenient humanity.

The residents are also discouraged from engaging in "close proximity," which is futurespeak for displaying more than passing friendliness. So when Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta develop certain feelings for each other, they're confused. (They are the mental equivalent of 15-year-olds, but with each discovery, they're maturing at a rapid rate.)

When Jordan is selected for the Island, Lincoln knows he'll never see her again. A little investigation proves him right, and before you can say "Logan's Run," they're on the lam. Cue the helicopters and a paramilitary troubleshooter named Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) to chase them. Lincoln and Jordan's mission: to find the real humans they were copied from, and to alert outside society about this nefarious lab from whence they were sprung.

As pretty, very human stars, McGregor and Johansson put the main sizzle into "The Island," since we've seen this plotline, and this Brave New World, in better sci-fi films. Thanks to their performances, it's still fun to watch. (If only filmmaker Bay, whose over-the-top résumé includes "The Rock," "Armageddon," "Bad Boys II" and "Pearl Harbor" could have cut 30 minutes out of this thing, it would be even more enjoyable.) And let's give a round of applause for Bay's casting of Steve Buscemi, as McCord, a rumpled techie from the facility who helps Lincoln and Jordan escape. His personality, a sort of what-the-heck (to term it politely) approach to life, injects the sci-fi seriousness with offbeat humor. A secondhand story like this one needs every shot of fun it can get.

THE ISLAND (PG-13, 127 minutes) -- Contains action violence, some sexuality and obscenity. Area theaters.

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