Believe it or not, during Transformers: Age of Extinction, Michael Bay's fourth rattling of the toy box, I felt one moment of transcendence. Three-fourths of the way through the punishing 165-minute runtime my brain left my body, crying out as it fled, "How could a space robot riding a fire-breathing metal T.rex be so boring?"
It begins with thrilling stupidity, the revelation that the dinosaurs were murdered by evil cheeseburger-shaped spaceships who built their own car-shaped society from their bones, the literalization of fossil fuels. From there, Age of Extinction gets even more moronic.
The events of the third film, in which Shia LaBeouf saved Chicago (fragments of it, at least) from Megatron, have become in this sequel America's new 9/11. Thirteen-hundred civilians died that day, a rare instance of a movie giving a body count for the usual city-destroying smash-em-ups. Mark Wahlberg plays a single dad and small-town inventor named Cade, who lives in a Disneyland version of Texas with his 17-year-old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), one of those long-limbed, snub-nosed Southern girls shellacked with terrible pink lipstick. Also around: Cade's new scrap junk purchase, a bullet-riddled 18-wheeler that just happens to be Optimus Prime in disguise.
There isn't enough visual beauty to forgive the screenplay's ugliness, but Bay does brave a daring new standard in product placement. He doesn't just show a Bud Light truck -- he wrecks it, scatters beer bottles across the road, and then has Mark pick one up and take a swig. It's so calculated, it gets a knowing laugh, as if the audience is relieved that at least there's one joke that doesn't insult their intelligence.