The Island

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, and Djimon Hounsou. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, July 22, at the Paramount Vancouver and the Varsity Theatre

Three weeks into July, summer is finally here and one can almost smell the anticipation in the air as director Michael Bay delivers The Island to the multiplexes of a grateful nation. Or is it just the popcorn? Actually, it's both. As moviegoers know, Bay's thrill-ride films (Armageddon, The Rock) are best served with popcorn, and The Island is pure Bay. Cars and helicopters weave intricately through dangerous obstacle courses and things blow up real good. A cautionary tale about clones raging against the machine, the film features the requisite good-looking people in desperate, ticking-clock scenarios impeccably filmed against lavish backgrounds. What's not to like?

We'll get to that later.

Lincoln Six Echo (played with childish glee by Ewan McGregor) awakens in his dormitory, dons a generic uniform (save for his incongruous Puma sneakers), and goes to work. He and his fellow drones believe themselves to be the sole survivors of an undisclosed ecological disaster that left most of the outside world contaminated. These worker bees buzz with dreams of winning the Lottery, which enables the lucky ones to go live on the Island, the last unspoiled place on Earth. What these good people don't realize, of course, is that they're actually elaborate clones grown by millionaire owners for future organ-harvesting. Furthermore, their coveted island doesn't exist. Just as his gorgeous female coworker, Jordan Two Delta (an underutilized and miscast Scarlett Johansson), wins the Lottery, Lincoln stumbles onto the truth and plots their escape to the outside world. Once there, the pair and the film are assisted by Steve Buscemi's McCord, a technician with a soft spot for strong-willed clones. The actor's comic intensity is sorely missed later in the film.

Starting on similar intellectual ground to Blade Runner, The Island abandons most of the smart stuff once Lincoln and Jordan move on to a futuristic L.A., featuring monorails and sky ships that recall Fritz Lang's Metropolis. What follows is an orgy of thrilling, if implausible, action.

The cloning theme may seem torn from the headlines, but Bay employs it merely to set up a trite Orwellian melodrama: an individual's escape from a stark future dystopia. But the screenplay's fear-mongering, tabloid-ready horror show appears to pander to the political right, if anything, while stem-cell advocates on the left will cringe at the lack of nuance in the good-versus-evil dynamic. But, hey, forget about all that. Summer's here and the popcorn smells great.