NEW YORK — Does “Bumblebee” (Paramount) deserve a lot of buzz? While it shares the slightly preposterous premise of all the “Transformers” movies — being concerned, as they are, with alien robots who can shapeshift into cars — this installment of the sci-fi action franchise ranks above average thanks to an emotionally appealing story line.
Set in 1987, the film charts the friendship between the Autobot of the title, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle when in car form, and vulnerable but plucky teen Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). Still mourning her deceased father, whose mechanical skills she inherited, Charlie finds solace in her bond with her newfound amigo, though their communication is limited because his speech has been disabled in a fight with one of the Autobots’ sworn enemies, the Decepticons.
In exile from his home world, Cybertron, Bumblebee faces threats both human and extraterrestrial. Two Decepticons have followed him to Earth and they manage to convince the U.S. government to help them find the fugitive. Leading the hunt is an officer of the military’s top-secret Sector 7, suspicious, narrow-minded Agent Jack Burns (John Cena).
Aided by her love-smitten next-door neighbor Guillermo “Memo” Gutierrez (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Charlie does her best to protect Bumblebee from Burns and his minions. But she can’t, of course, shield him once the Decepticons arrive on the scene, spoiling for a fight.
That’s just as well for the filmmakers since gadgetry and the brawling of outsized mechanical beings from outer space continue to be the hallmarks of the series — the overlay of Eighties nostalgia and soft sentiments notwithstanding.
Working from a script by Christina Hodson, director Travis Knight revisits familiar themes. Charlie’s mom, Sally (Pamela Adlon), has moved on from widowhood and is happily married to Ron (Stephen Schneider), a situation that leaves Charlie resentful and alienated. Together with Charlie’s younger brother, Otis (Jason Drucker), Sally and Ron form a family unit from which Charlie often feels isolated.
For his part, Agent Burns embodies the long-standing Hollywood trope that people tend to fear what they fail to understand. He eventually undergoes something of a conversion on that score, thus becoming an example of that paramount Tinseltown virtue, tolerance.
Given that the showcased mayhem is mostly restrained and bloodless and that the central romance reaches its moment of greatest intensity with a kiss on the cheek, “Bumblebee” is possibly acceptable for older teens.
The film contains much stylized violence with slight gore, at least one use of profanity, about a half-dozen milder oaths, a sexual reference as well as a couple of crude and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.