The best part of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" has no transformers in it. In the first act of Michael Bay's two-hour-plus threequel, regular transformer pal Shia LaBeouf fights a harder battle than any Decepticon has ever forced on him: Finding a job. In a humorous montage of ill-fated interviews, LaBeouf reminds us that he posseses legitimate acting talent beyond those countless reactions shots to CGI. (Remember "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"?) In a vain display of self-confidence, the erstwhile hero repeatedly gets put in his place by striking out. Even a bemused John Malkovich doesn't bat an eyelash when LaBeouf proclaims that he saved the world twice already. When he tells another potential employer that he received a medal from President Obama, the hustler hits another wall: "We're mostly Republican here," comes the reply.
The movie hardly needs giant robots in disguise to make this genuinely entertaining montage work. But the robots eventually take over the screen, the speakers belch out a million thundering sounds at once, and the band plays on. That's the ongoing paradox of Bay's entire filmography, a string of blockbusters with the potential for something more.
From "Bad Boys" to "The Island," Bay has shown an ability to direct screwball comedy and even convey a fair amount of romanticism, but in each case the dissonance has resulted in a fragmented work divided between story and spectacle. Invariably, spectacle wins out. The Bay aesthetic is expensive but ironically disposable. (Will anyone remember, much less talk about, "Dark of the Moon" in 20 years? In 50?) In Bayville, money talks, but that doesn't mean it always has something to say. Which is a shame, because the least ugly aspects of "Transfomers" are also its cheapest conceits.