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By Mark Bell | July 2, 2014

Michael Bay didn’t invent sequels, one dimensional characters, incoherent narratives, laughable dialogue, product placement or deafening, incomprehensible action sequences. He’s just made them synonymous with summer movies. The guy’s an evil genius. Everybody knows these films suck yet practically everybody sees them anyway.

Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth in his series inspired by Hasbro toys, sucks a lot. It may be the crappiest movie ever made. It’s so stupid and terrible it makes even its good characters look bad.

Which this time, in addition to the giant contraptions, includes Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg as the least convincing inventor in cinematic history. He plays a musclebound widower named Cade Yeager who divides his time between building defective robots in his Texas barn and telling his 17-year-old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) her cutoffs are too short.

Once upon a time Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf played the token humans but Fox has gone on to establish herself as a credible screen performer (Passion Play, This Is 40) while LaBeouf has just gone nuts. Injecting an actor of Wahlberg’s pedigree into the franchise is a credibility-boosting ploy which does succeed. For most of the first five minutes.

We meet Cade and sidekick Lucas (T.J. Miller) as they root around a shuttered movie house in search of retoolable detritus. What the pair find is the theater’s crotchety owner. The scene’s tailor made for a commentary of the state of cinema and, sure enough, the old guy goes meta: “Movies nowadays,” he snarls (a spittoon would’ve been a nice touch here). “Sequels and remakes-a bunch of crap!” See what Bay did there? It’s self-referential. Like 22 Jump Street only without the fun. They also stumble across a dusty semi that’s inexplicably parked inside and turns out to be Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen).

Not that it matters, but the plot: Though the Transformers have thrice saved the world, the CIA has decided they’re “alien combatants” to be hunted down and destroyed. Kelsey Grammer’s kill squad head Harold Attinger is a role that—to put it kindly—he was not born to play. Imagine Zero Dark Thirty with Frasier in charge and you get the picture. The film’s bold statement about terrorism? It’s bad.

The Transformers are simultaneously targeted by an alien robohitman called Lockdown (Mark Ryan). The movie’s only 165 minutes long so it’d probably be too much to expect Ehren Kruger’s script to explain why any of these sinister cartoons want the part-time cars dead. It has bigger fish to fry.

Or, rather, bigger crashes, explosions and city-flattening battles to pummel our senses with. Cade and Tessa join forces with the Transformers and the chaos moves for no reason from the Arctic to Texas to Chicago and ultimately Hong Kong. Well, no reason except filling Chinese seats. Bay’s movies may be stupid but he’s not.

Good luck making sense of the mayhem or, half the time, even making out which hunk of metal is doing what to whom much less why. Apart from the product placements for everything from Bud Light and Chevrolet to Samsung and Beats by Dre, the only thing the director makes crystal clear is that the climax sets the stage for further sequels even now in the works. Thank god, a reason to get up in the morning.

I’ll suggest a product which would’ve been well placed: Excedrin. Because coming soon to a frontal lobe near you is the mother of all migraines. Transfourmers, as I like to call it, is everything you could want in a big budget tentpole so long as what you want is sound and fury signifying nothing beyond a guarantee that more of the same is already on the way.

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