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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Wednesday Aug 12, 2009
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Pretty... but dumb.
Pretty... but dumb.  

There’s an old saying in the systems administration world: Garbage in, garbage out. That axiom holds true for the creation of motion pictures, and in particular movies like "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." Screenwriter Stuart Beetle and story author Stephen Sommers wrote an entirely sophomoric script, filled with banalities and implausibilities, and despite sommers’ capable action direction and a dizzying array of CGI special effects, the end result is the worst film I’ve seen all year.

The plot reads as a hastily-constructed, completely unintentional mashup of "Team America: World Police" and just about every dumb military action flick you’ve ever seen - with an Achilles heel constructed of pieces of plot thrown together by no less than five previous writers. The story starts nonsensically in 1641 France with a laughable back-story, then zips to the "near future," where good and evil batlle for control over nanotechnological warheads. The "good" are the G.I. Joes, a top-secret paramilitary outfit under the dubious direction of a scenery-chewing, John Wayne-apeing Dennis Quaid, and heroed by two grunts played by Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans. A pretty girl is thrown in for spice (Rachel Nichols), but little more. On the "evil" side we have evil Scot McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) along with a bevy of iconic baddies: mad scientist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), hero’s ex-girlfriend/queen bitch in black (Sienna Miller), and some no-name asian martial arts pretty-boy in a white suit. Where does all this lead? To the destruction of those nasty Parisians and their pretty little capital city, of course.

In total. Like, with the Eiffel Tower falling down. Cut to scene wherein Presidential aide informs his boss that "The French are pretty upset." Uh...

The fact that the Joes make such a mess of Paris in a pitch-perfect emulation of "Team America" may have been lost on the authors - but certainly won’t be lost on the film’s audiences. And with the movie’s increasingly insipid dialogue and entirely unfunny repartee between its heroes providing counterpoint to a seemingly endless series of explosions and digital effects, there’s not much to cheer for. Even the acting is sub-par, despite fun cameos by Brandon Frasier and Jonathan Pryce. Tatum looks pretty, but fails to carry the film, and the intended chemistry between him and Miller, as well as the intended chemistry between Wayans and Nichols, is utterly absent.

But that doesn’t really matter, right? Because the film’s real purpose is to blow your head back with non-stop visual thrills, high-octane pacing and enough pyrotechnics to rival a nuclear assault. Sommers gets this part right; it certainly is a bombastic film, and I must say that he’s superb in directing both fight sequences and large-scale battles. Regrettably, after the film’s few opening salvos, wherein Sommers throws everything he has at the screen, the excitement starts to pale; and since there’s no emotional structure under the flashy skin of the picture, the entire film falls apart. The result: chuckling at the bad dialogue, audience members checking watches, and a general feeling of buyer’s remorse.

What’s the moral of the story? I could drone on about Hollywood’s ongoing love affair with greenlighting $175 million pictures based solely on their ability to leverage male teenagers’ ongoing affection with toys or comic books. But perhaps the true lesson is this: when a studio refuses to screen a movie for critics, it’s not because they want their audiences to speak in lieu of professional critiques - or whatever Paramount’s excuse was here. It’s because they have known for some time that the movie sucks, and will tank if they let the critics speak. In this case, they won: the movie took its opening weekend handily. Unfortunately, that encourages repeat performances. Keep it in mind.

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his husband and daughter in Dedham MA.

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