BUMBLEBEE stung me with a sweet surprise: I never thought I’d use “Transformers” and “charming” in the same sentence. Thanks are due for a cute story, a whiff of nostalgia, and impressive CGI state-of-the-art flashbang. Most importantly, and the main reason—the only reason—an un-Transformed codger like me even volunteered 114 minutes for a look, is the glowing presence of one of the brightest young actresses of the day. Well, dawg my katz: you’re never too old to not know what you’re talking about.
“They literally call themselves Decepticons. That doesn’t set off any red flags?”
In 1987, 18’er ‘Charlie Watson’ (Hailee Steinfeld, 21), raw from the death of her father, feels alienated from her mother and mom’s new boyfriend, has a brain-dead job at a food stand, and only finds solace tinkering with her new toy, a cast-off yellow ’67 Volkswagen Beetle. Amusement flips to amazement when ‘Bumblebee’ reveals itself to be not only capable of the instantaneous transformation of its shape, but is shown to be the object of lethal pursuit, from government hardass ‘Agent Burns’ (John Cena), and a couple of other shape-shifting machines from Out There…Somewhere.
Sixth in the franchise (a corporate-kissing word to despise when it comes to movies) of ‘Transformer’ special effects hits, the $135,000,000 entry was directed by Travis Knight (son of Nike bigfoot Phil Knight) and written by Christina Hodson. Though it made less than the preceding five, it still quick-changed a planetary haul of $468,000,000, 17th place in the 2018 rally.
Just as Charlie-girl gets gobsmacked by her Beetle buddy, your ardent correspondent (half hopeful/half cynical) just happened to catch this scifi-comic treat in a right place/right time arc of channel-surfing. On a vacation, killing hours in a hotel before a flight home, we clicked on this bug just when Ms. Steinfeld entered the picture. Had I started at the beginning, with its prologue of ‘Transformer world’ setting things up, I may have dialed on. Piqued by the actress who did so much for True Grit and The Edge Of Seventeen, we stuck with it, hung out with Charlie, her insane VW and her likable neighbor/would-be-boyfriend ‘Memo’. Had a great time.
Steinfeld never does anything in her acting—in expression, with carriage or by intonation—that does not ring true. Former wrestler Cena has a good time playing the nominal threat, and, as Memo, the self-effacing dude who has a crush on Charlie, 22-year-old Jorge Lendeborg Jr. scores well; he ought to have a bright future.
Smiles also generate from the well-placed selection of 80s tunes, including Steve Winwood’s classic “Higher Love”, Sammy Hagar’s gas-pedal anthem “I Can’t Drive 55”, Tears For Fears “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer”. The action sequences are pretty wild; if I was a kid, this stuff would rule. Californians present & former will recognize the location work around Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Vallejo.
With Pamela Adlon (swell job as Charlie’s mom), Jason Drucker, John Ortiz (scientist foolish enough to try and play nice with the aliens), Stephen Schneider, Len Cariou, Gracie Dzienny (the mean girl) and Fred Dwyer. Voice work comes from Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux and Peter Cullen. Watching, you can’t help but musing who—at least from one age group—doesn’t have some crazy ‘Bug’ story?