Thursday, August 20, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

I'm of two minds about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. On the one hand, it's one of the worst things ever made and a logical end point to just give up and wipe out the human race. I've literally never seen a film announce its terribleness as swiftly and decisively as when this movie opens up in olden times France for a flashback sequence detailing the villain's superfluous ancestry, and it just spirals further into the abyss from there; a veritable orgy of ninjas, nanobots, bullets, explosions, and hot chicks in skintight leather.

On the other hand, the movie is veritable orgy of ninjas, nanobots, bullets, explosion, and hot chicks in skintight leather, and as a stupid person, I found it suitably entertaining in its hollow, glossy brainlessness. It achieves its (sickeningly) modest goals as a toy movie and as others have damned with faint praise by pointing out, it is, in fact, better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

For starters, name for me an action sequence in Transformers. I'll give about ten out of ten odds that what you just named is a robot fight, because that's all Transformers has — robot fight after robot fight after robot fight until your eyes glaze over and one string of drool gently creeps out your mouth and down onto your bib. None of G.I. Joe's action scenes will go down as revolutionary (in fact one scene at the Eiffel Tower is through sheer force of will somehow a parody of a scene in Team America), but at least there's a bit of variety — gun battles, jet planes, car chase, sword fights, submarine battle, home base protection, enemy base invasion, and so on. If you're gonna eat junk food you might as well mix it up rather than gorging the same kind en masse until you vomit.

Also, while I'm not about to claim G.I. Joe as some kind of bastion of feminism — the fact that Sienna Miller's breasts are either half-exposed or bulging through the aforementioned skintight leather in every frame deep-sixes that theory — recall that all that Megan Fox, the only significant female character, got to do in Transformers is seductively straddle a motorcycle, pout at the camera, and run away from bad robots. Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols actually get to hold guns and kill guys and blow shit up and kick ass in this movie, so G.I. Joe wins hands down as goes gender equality.

Sienna Miller actually gives a pretty hilarious villainous performance, all black leather and cleavage and twin machine guns, like a second-rate Xenia Onatopp mixed with a comic book. Dennis Quaid wins equal laughs by playing his absurd macho dialogue absolutely straight, but the movie is unquestionably dominated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Yes, subtle, nuanced indie darling Joseph Gordon-Levitt of Brick, The Lookout, (500) Days of Summer, and Mysterious Skin, one of the finest actors of his generation, who devours the scenery in a ludicrously over-the-top performance as the Darth Vader-knockoff villain, snarling with cartoonish malevolence about how he must destroy the Joes. It's utterly brilliant in its badness, and I couldn't stop guffawing every time he was onscreen.

The only actor who can't even measure up to G.I. Joe's "special needs" acting standards is unfortunately the lead, Channing Tatum. I don't get Channing Tatum. Why he's leading movies, I mean. The furniture he shares scenes with outperforms him. I emote more when my Internet browser crashes than he does when his best friend blows up. He can be in movies, sure, but he should be playing Misc. Football Player #3 who has two lines, or a waiter, not main fucking characters. What the hell, Hollywood?

Worst yet, the movie doesn't even have the decency to flood itself with self-parodying patriotic fervor, boasting a multinational cast and with barely an American flag to be seen, robbing us of the one thing that could have elevated the braindead exercise to glorious kitsch! Instead of taking the obvious, hilarious route and casting an blatant Reagan pastiche as the U.S. President, they actually cast Jonathan Pryce, who is in fact the most effete and British man on the planet. Indeed, G.I. Joe is not one-tenth as all-American as I was hoping for.

The movie has creeped over the green line to earn back its $175 million budget, and looks due to make a little more before leaking quietly out of theaters and into the DVD collections of people without standards. So I suppose director Stephen Sommers did his job and got the right people paid. But on the other hand, Sommers is one of less than twenty men in history to be given $175 million with which he could have produced any kind of film imaginable, and this juvenile, lowest common denominator puerile trash is he chose to do with that awesome gift? And then we, the human race, proceeded to reward him for it at the box office? We're fucking terrible. We're assholes, man.

2 Stars out of 5

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