Dealing with a hot-button issue in typical blockbuster fashion, The Island adds some solemn notes to its big-budget brew of action and humor. But the message behind the film-cloning humans might be bad-is often drowned out by what's actually happening on the screen. Those who didn't already suspect that cloning involves complicated moral issues may have their eyes opened; everyone else will have too much time to question the film's gaping plot holes and occasionally tasteless interludes.
The story starts in a rigidly repressed underground society, preserved after a disaster wipes out the surface of the Earth. When he asks too many questions, worker Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) attracts the attention of Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean). Merrick doesn't know that Lincoln has befriended Mac McCord (Steve Buscemi), a mechanic who helps Lincoln discover that he is living in a colony of clones raised to supply organs to their human "sponsors." When Lincoln escapes with his comely friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), Merrick has to call in Defense Department security expert Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) and his operatives to contain the problem.
In the opening scenes, director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) shows commendable restraint, building a world based closely enough on other sci-fi movies to seem credible, but with its own jarring peculiarities. The clone word isn't mentioned until an hour into the movie, but it's not giving too much of the plot away to reveal that Lincoln and Jordan find themselves in a fight for their lives while searching for their human counterparts in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the entire topic of cloning is just an excuse for protracted action sequences, some lifted a little too obviously from films like Minority Report and The Matrix Reloaded. Given the consistent vision of The Island's first half, the heroics that clutter the latter half are that much more disappointing, even though they can be amazingly entertaining to watch. While it seems as if every new action film establishes some special-effects benchmark, The Island still manages to up the ante during a freeway chase sequence filled with flying debris and spectacular crashes.
Give Bay credit for trying to address something more than pyrotechnics. (He deserves credit as well for some of the most avant-garde montages this side of experimental film.) On the other hand, whose fault is it when The Island raises egregious comparisons to the Holocaust? Or when Ewan McGregor gets to indulge in weak gags with his double-exposed alter ego? Or when two characters can survive a 70-story fall with barely a scratch?