Sunday, August 9, 2009

G.I. Joe Deserves Dishonorable Discharge

I guess I could have more fun making up snarky review titles about this film than I did seeing the movie. Let me start by saying that I found the trailer intriguing, and was actually looking forward to a solid summer action pic. The super-suits seemed cool, and I loved the effect of flying through the light-rail train and leaping over cars.

It turns out that scene is the high-point of the film. Everything else is a sour mashup of Team America and Star Wars. Maybe that's not quite fair: the team America puppets had more life than the actors in this film. (Though we do get a couple of gratuitous male beefcake shots. Who's the audience for this again?)

The film opens with a flashback to fifteenth century France, where a Scottish arms merchant is tortured for selling arms to both sides. The merchant turns out to be the distant ancestor of our movie villain, modern-day arms merchant McCullen (I don't think I'm giving too much away here - it's not like his villainous role isn't obvious from the start). Since when did Scotts get a reputation as super villains? I've always thought of them more as bumbling well-intentioned tinkerers, like Simon Pegg and other incarnations of Scotty on Star Trek. Well, if nothing else, maybe this movie will do something to toughen the Scottish reputation.

McCullen sends a group of U.N. troops to escort some nasty nanobites in a silver briefcase across an ambush; two troops who survive the ambush get recruited by the G.I. Joes (run by Dennis Quaid as General Hawk); the shadowy COBRA, behind the ambush, finally get their hands on the nanobites, and the Joes have to get them back. That's about as basic a "get the briefcase" movie plot as you can get.

Which is fine, and Hasbro turned another children's toy, Transformers, into a simple action pic earlier this summer. But Transformers had Michael Bay. This movie just has only...extreme violence, and juvenile back stories, which seem to be built on the level of five-year-old sibling rivalry, and targeted directly at a kiddie audience who need to see everything at least five times in order to place a connection (the movie isn't taking any chances on subtly). It's also assembled from an uninspired assortment of stolen action movie scenes. I know, I was asked to see Julie and Julia, but to my regret, insisted on this macho confection instead. Anyway, let's see if I can re-create the recipe for this film:

Day the Earth Stood Still: three measures of nanobite special effects
Men In Black: teaspoon of testing procedure
Team America: sprinkle with lair banter, and loaf of Paris destruction
Kung Fu Panda: lightly toasted back story resentment
Star Wars: two cups of Darth Vader, and a dash of Sith fight in reactor room

Pound heavily with metal music, chop finely, then flame broil on high violence.

What results is not really digestible, if you ask me. It's more like an extended ad for G.I. Joe action figures, and I already got enough ads before the trailers (seeing the trailer for Tim Burton's "9" was actually the best moment in the theater). But what bothers me most about this film is that it's clearly targeting children, and yet I haven't seen a more violent movie in years. The movie kills probably two or three hundred innocent civilians, but with no more a care than a video-game. I'm not usually sensitive about these things, but I feel it my civic duty to warn any parent who cares at all about their children's mental health to keep anyone under twelve out of this movie, which since it has no real character development, has no real moral message to speak of, and does nothing except desensitize the viewer to killing.

As for the rest of us, why bother? The movie is almost five minutes from the ending when it suddenly realizes it needs to set itself up for a sequel. Hence, "The Rise of Cobra." It's obvious this G.I. Joe is the first in a planned line of seasonal movie merchandise. Put me on the 'do not call' list for the rest.

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