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Review: GI JOE


GI JOE , USA/ Czech Republic , 2009 , MPAA Rating : PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout

Breaking up is hard to do, and sometimes the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance of how it plays out. That’s the theme driving G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, an action film that is not quite as plastic as its namesake and certainly has higher production values.

It’s cheerfully cheesy with the idiom of an epic and the soul of a Saturday morning cartoon, the type of which is aimed at the pre-teen kiddy set as surely as this big-budget boom-fest is. The broken hearts belong to Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ana (Sienna Miller), two kids on the way to the altar before Duke failed to bring Ana’s brother, Rex (Joseph Gordon Levitt) back from an army mission to East Africa four years ago. She was ticked off that he failed to face her at the funeral. Being the strong, sensitive type of uber he-man, he was feeling too guilty to face her there or anywhere else, on top of feeling guilty about Rex being dead. It’s the kind of misunderstanding that allows Tatum to be photographed in the rain looking manfully stricken, something at which he is very good, and to turn a good girl bad enough for Duke to be forced to chase her down, not to mention the nanotechnology warhead she’s stolen and the evil villain of the piece, McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), for whom she is now working.

After failing to deliver the ci-mentioned warhead safely to its destination, Duke and his requisite sidekick, Rip (Marlon Wayans) are intercepted and then recruited by the eponymous secret ops team to retrieve it. There is the usual snarling and testosterone-laden posturing with the team commander, General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), not to mention the extended sequenced during which Duke and Rip are trained in the use of lots of nifty technology, including the use of accelerator suits that will, no doubt, ring a bell with fans of Iron Man’s hardware. It’s well done enough to be an homage rather than a direct rip-off though.

Much about this film is well done enough to compensate for the clichés and egregious exposition. Wayans, in particular, is in serious contention to be the best sidekick ever with his clever delivery of lines that could have fallen flat, as well as the way he moons sweetly over the luscious Amazon of the team, Scarlett (Rachel Nicols), whose flaming red locks tumble artfully over the camouflage fatigues that she fills out smartly with her ebullient womanhood. In addition to the curvaceous, yet brainy, Scarlett, there is Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the no-nonsense squad leader, and Snake Eyes (Ray Park), a man mountain in an intricate visor and body armor that could double as bondage wear. While he never speaks, we learn much about him from his sworn enemy, who just happens to be Ana’s partner in mayhem, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee).

Obviously there is more back story here than is usually found in action flicks, and flashbacks to fill us in abound. McCullen, we learn in the first flashback, comes from a long line of arms dealers dating back to the 17th century yet. There are also stock characters aplenty, but played by actors who can actually act. Tatum especially brings a refreshing gravitas to the lightweight dialogue and endless if entertaining action. Eccleston, taming a Scottish brogue thick enough to deserve its own credit line, has a nice sense of lurking insanity beneath the cool exterior, and Miller throws herself into the evil of her part and the snarkiness of her lines.

The action is whiz-bang cool with jolts of imaginative creativity that take full advantage of the CGI at the filmmaker’s disposal. For all the tired tropes of futuristic planes flying out of exploding fireballs, there are some new takes on guys flying through space and commuter trains. Interactive holograms co-mingle with such shopworn concepts as madmen seeking world domination, and a mad scientist with a gift for creating soldiers with neither conscience or consciousness, and whose disfigured face mirrors the damage to his soul. As for why the heroes of the piece attempt to head off the villains by driving a white van in city traffic and obeying all the traffic rules when destruction is only moments away is never explained.

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA is a big fun lug of a popcorn flick, moving along quickly enough for the plot holes to be mere blips on the radar screens of anyone paying close enough attention to notice them. The violence is surprisingly free of blood and gore, the language, even in the heat of battle, is never rougher than the random “crap”. In other words, what we have here is expensively produced escapist fantasy designed to protect the delicate sensibilities of the kids while never for a moment taxing their budding critical thinking skills, or the more developed ones of the adults in attendance.

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