Monday, August 10, 2009

Joe Doesn't Blow

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Release: 08.07.09
Rated PG-13 (Ha!)
1 hour, 58 minutes


Duke (Channing Tatum, She's the Man) is tasked with safeguarding a payload of nanomite warheads built by McCullen's (Christopher Eccleston, 28 Days Later) company M.A.R.S. The convoy is attacked by an advanced group of terrorists led by the Baroness (Sienna Miller, Stardust). Were it not for a mysterious band of heroes led by Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, The Mummy Returns), the terrorists would have been successful. Duke and his buddy Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, Dungeons & Dragons) insist the warheads remain in their possession. They are escorted to General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, Vantage Point) at G.I. Joe headquarters.

Before I get started, let me clarify a few things. I was never a huge G.I. Joe fan as a kid. By the time my bus got home, I would catch the last half of Joe as I waited impatiently for Transformers, Thundercats, Voltron or whatever other cartoon alien show followed it. I had a handful of figures, but they usually got crushed under Optimus's tires. Then when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I expected this to be a steaming turd, rolled in powdered sugar and topped with dingleberries, that the studios were trying to shove down audiences' throats. If you caught last week's Trailer Trash, I insinuated that Marlon Wayans was going to be as annoying as a taint hair. Given these three pre-existing factors, you can imagine my surprise.

Serious Joe fans may be perturbed they changed a few of the characters' histories, but it worked well to tighten the expansive world into a more mentally digestible, though somewhat too convenient, story. The metal-munching nanomites may seem implausible, but no more so than a mission put on hold to allow two gung ho soldiers to complete a battery of tests to join the most elite fighting force in the world. The story marches doubletime, sparing audiences from getting bogged down in these shaky details.

I loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick) in his small role as The Doctor. I've always liked Dennis Quaid and Christopher Eccleston, and though I'm not a fan of Marlon Wayans, he gave one of the film's better performances...when he wasn't tap dancing for cheap laughs. However, watching his costar Channing Tatum was like pulling teeth. Stephen Hawking could have delivered lines with more emotion, charisma and far better timing. While I'm bitching, I got nothing against Jonathan Pryce (The Brothers Grimm), but would it have killed them to hire an American to play the U.S. President?! Mummy fans will be happy that director Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing) finds jobs for many of his old cast, such as Arnold Vosloo (Blood Diamond) as the douchey Zartan.

Dirty Undies
Audiences didn't sign on looking for riveting performances; they enlisted for the action and mayhem. G.I. Joe goes above and beyond the call of duty, and in my opinion, its PG-13 rating. I LOVE violent action films, but how is watching a woman stabbed through the chest, followed by a man skewered on a fork lift blade, and topped off with a unknown-soldier flambé kid friendly? Excessive gunfire, explosions and death are an exciting and commonplace elements in G.I. Joe, so don't be surprised.

Director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) fills G.I. Joe with grandiose action sequences even if they all weren't up to visual snuff. The opening sequence is awesomely violent and spectacular; it really hooks you. The tour through the Pit and the accelerator suit chase, among others, look about as awesome as The Mummy's special effects. That would be cool if it were 1999, but it's 2009 and CGI is much, much improved. Watching characters traipse in front of flat, matted backgrounds was more than a little disappointing.

Watching Sienna Miller strut around in black leather was not the least disappointing. Well, there is that scene when she's rocking a low-cut, black leather jumpsuit, bedazzled like she was Britney Spears, as she heads into battle. Hugely impractical. Speaking of huge, you should check out Scarlett's (Rachel Nichols, Star Trek) big green eyes. You won't notice them since her boobs practically burst from every military issue outfit she wears.

The Money Shot
G.I. Joe is far more entertaining than expected. Thanks to some seriously lousy acting and piss-poor special effects, it never achieves awesomeness. Still, Sommers and his small army of writers manage to make the fantastical elements of G.I. Joe seem believable, if only marginally. Having it firmly declared a hit, expect to see G.I. Joe: Cobra Returns and G.I. Joe: Serpentor, the Cobra Emperor and the spin-off series The Cobra Commander.

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  1. I've only seen the previews, but my question off the bat is what on earth does this have to do with the original G.I. Joe's? Weren't they meant to be just regular soldiers who wear green fatigues? The whole black leather thing makes me feel cheap. Like they're using a brand name to promote whatever the hell they want... So It sounds like a good adrenaline ride, but I think if you're going to buy a brand you should still have a certain amount of loyalty to it. Just saying.

  2. I'm perfectly fine waiting for DVD/TV on this one, but I'm glad to hear it's not the steaming pile so many expected.

    So JGL is Cobra Commander, no? That the big ending or something? It's been two decades; I can barely remember the characters' names, much less their histories. My biggest beef with the flick is how generic everyone is; where are the colorful costumes?

    Vosloo seems a perfect fit for Zartan, though.

  3. @Monique Elisabeth- I'd forgotten the original Joe's were just a bunch of 12" dolls in green fatigues way back in the day. I grew up during the thematic costumes and cheesy characterizations of the 80's cartoon. I would have been fine with the Joes in black leather (only for ops, 80s costumes for off-duty) but the Cobra army should have worn the dark blue of the cartoon, but again that's the 80's in me talking. I had read about the Joe toy line over on Wiki and they've actually gone through four different variations since the 60's. Other than character names, I don't know how much loyalty is left.

    @Fletch- Yep, he is. It's kind of the big ending, but the first time you see him as the Doctor you know who he'll be (he wears the Vader breathing apparatus). I missed the colorful costumes. It's probably good you don't remember much. I don't either, but I don't recall Duke and the Baroness being an item. Yeah, that's one of those too convenient story elements. Since I'm not a huge fan, worked well enough for me.

    Vosloo was a cool Zartan, you could tell he was enjoying himself. They kinda even explain his mimicry ability.

    I foresee myself catching this on TBS/TNT for many a future Saturday afternoon.

  4. I know an awful LOT of people who surprised themselves by enjoying this movie, including some who'd hated the trailers so much that they were eager for this film to flop. Now they're saying GI Joe 2 deserves to be made more than Transformers 2 did.

  5. @Fletch Vosloo is great in the film as is JGL.

    @Whore This film was actually entertaining and yes, they did manage something special with all of Scarlett's outfits.

    You hit the nail on the head with the CGI quality. They got a little too ambitious with it with not enough funding to pay for the high quality stuff.

    I will be seeing this again in theater.

  6. @AFC- I don't know all about that. Transformers is iconic. TF deserves to be made with more care.

    @film-book- If more grunts actually looked like Scarlett, more folks would be signing up to be all they can be.

    It's too bad their ambition wasn't tinged with a need for quality. I'd sacrifice some of those scenes for the sake of better visuals. Though that must be hard to do; spend millions on bad effects and then have to justify taking that loss vs leaving it in to be ridiculed.

  7. And I thought women in the military had to keep their hair above their collars. Scarlett's is always down.