G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (2009)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 8/7/09
Director: Stephen Sommers
Music: Alan Silvestri
Visual Effects: Digital Domain
Cast: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Dennis Quaid, Ray Park, Byung-hun Lee, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, Leo Howard, Brandon Soo Hoo, Karolina Kurkova, Brendan Fraser

Painfully stupid, but gleefully enjoyable. Anyone who has ever staged mock battles with GI Joe figures, Star Wars toys, Micronauts, plastic army men, Smurfs, or any other group of armed and dangerous toys will get a kick out of this movie, because that's basically what it is. It's the realization of a ten year old boy's wildest fantasies and requires you to cast yourself back to a time when your mind was innocent and full of vivid imagination. Back to a time when heroic conflict consisted simply of charismatic good guys fighting equally charismatic bad guys, resulting in lots and lots of destruction and collateral damage. Back when you could play with your toys free of conscience and without guilt, not having to worry about politics, law suits, environmental impact, insurance claims, and the hundreds of innocent lives left in the wake of your actions. Back when blowing stuff up was just plain fun and simple. That's what "G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra" is all about, including a script that's as shallow and senseless as what a ten year old boy would come up with while playing with his toys and making his own sound effects. Unless you never had much imagination to begin with - then you're totally screwed and won't get anything out of the movie.

Adding new fuel to the arms race, NATO has just purchased a set of warheads that are armed with special nanobots that can disintegrate metal. Army boys Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are assigned to transport the warheads when their convoy is ambushed by a technically superior force led by a mysterious woman in black leather (Sienna Miller). However, her efforts to steal the warheads are thwarted when another high tech team shows up to take custody of the weapons: the G.I. Joes, led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Duke and Ripcord enlist with the Joes just in time for Baroness and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to make another play for the warheads, with much better results. Then the rest of the film plays out as one big chase as the Joes desperately try to recover the weapons and save the world from evil. They also happen to destroy EVERYTHING that's in their way, almost as if "Team America: World Police" (2004) was their inspiration. How strange that the parody came first... When all is said and done, the bad guys are captured (well, most of them) and the stage is set for a sequel that may never come due to the critical drubbing that the film received.

The film falls into that tricky cinematic wasteland that's too violent for young kids, but too stupid for adults. Thankfully it's not as bad as "Van Helsing" (2004) or "The Mummy Returns" (2001), but it's still exceedingly silly and over the top. It's as if Stephen Sommers is tapping his inner George Lucas, and on numerous occasions the film uncomfortably reminded me of "The Phantom Menace" (1999) with its combination of cringe worthy dialog, stiff acting, and visual flair. The film is quite gorgeous to watch and moves along at a breakneck pace in order to keep your mind off of the increasingly absurd plot. The visual effects are spectacular for the most part, and lots of stuff blows up real good. The power suit sequence is completely ridiculous, and validated only by the fact that Scarlett (Rachel Nichols) joins the battle WITHOUT one. She prefers riding a motorcycle into the fray, which is MUCH more exhilarating to watch. The movie relies heavily on CGI effects, with the most egregious being digital steam. Instead of putting the actors in a cold environment that their bodies could actually react to, they just animated steam coming out of their mouths to simulate coldness. It looks downright awful. The film is also guilty of the worst hologram usage that I've ever seen, reusing the same hologram gags over and over when it's completely unnecessary. What's wrong with having people in the same room with each other? Why do they all have to be holograms that look 100% real? Ha ha! Fooled you again! He's just a hologram! Ha ha! Why?

But it gets worse. The central story isn't about arms dealing and military might, it's a love story. Hard to believe, huh? But I guess they felt like they had to give the ladies something more to do. Speaking of which, Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols are really the only two reasons to see the film, and their brief fight scene is arguably the highlight of the movie. Reminiscent of "The Mummy Returns," Stephen Sommers definitely has an eye for strong female characters and doesn't pull his punches when he puts Scarlett and Baroness together. It's an impressive fight that both actresses pull off marvelously, but it's ultimately spoiled by the ridiculous inclusion of an invisibility suit. The other highlight of the film is watching the young Snake Eyes (Leo Howard) and Storm Shadow (Brandon Soo Hoo) battle each other as kids. There is some serious hand-to-hand action in these scenes and the actors (or their doubles) are amazing to watch. Unfortunately, this has the side effect of making all of the adult fight scenes look really bad, and the inevitable showdown between the adult versions of Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow is sluggish, lackluster, and uninteresting, made even worse by bad camera work and poor editing.

As you might expect, the acting is pretty poor. Sienna Miller's performance as the sly and sinister Baroness is the best of the bunch and she convincingly comes across as a tough bitch. Unfortunately, her wardrobe designer took inspiration from Charlize Theron in "Aeon Flux" (2005) by giving her a hideous pair of shoes to wear. Thankfully, they're only visible in a few scenes, but they're really awful and seriously undermine her character. The wedge is neither sexy or practical and effectively makes the wearer look like they have horse's hooves for feet. NOT attractive. The other bad guys suffer as well, and Storm Shadow's shoes are also distracting and rather embarrassing. Anyway, moving on... Rachel Nichols is a pleasant surprise and easy on the eye. She handles her role well, despite her lame dialog and questionable character traits. But at least she wears reasonable shoes! Channing Tatum is perfect for his role as an anguished jarhead, and is probably the most convincing character in the cast. He's the only one who actually seems like he's IN the movie instead of just having the movie around him. Not surprisingly, the wise-cracking Marlon Wayans is just annoying and unnecessary, and once again Ray Park is alienated with a role that doesn't allow much freedom. Apart from Baroness, the bad guys are pretty ridiculous and laughably cartoonish. Dennis Quaid is a bit disappointing and looks embarrassed to be in the film. He can't seem to muster up a tough and grizzled military persona, which makes his character fall flat. And then there's Karolina Kurkova. What is she doing in this film? I would have loved to have seen that casting decision. "You know what? We don't have any Victoria's Secret supermodels in this film! Quick, see who's available..."

I could go on and on about all of the preposterous things in the movie that made me laugh out loud, but honestly, I really enjoyed it. Despite its excessive violence, it has a youthful innocence and playful energy about it that really hit my nostalgic sweet spot. While the writing is awful and the material doesn't do justice to the brand, it's nowhere near as vile and repulsive as the treatment that "Transformers" (2007) got.