Friday, October 29, 2010

"GI Joe" - I can't believe it wasn't complete garbage

The guy next to Punisher is gonna cut off his own arm!
I'm not saying it was good, but even mild compliments should have been impossible. My expectations were low. Then again, I love "Tango and Cash." Curse my need for variety.

"GI Joe:tRoC" is trashy, but well-made. It can be praised because it's a decent bad movie where it should've been a horrible, so-bad-it's-not-even-fun bad movie. Over the last 10 years or so, the big-budget re-imagined or resurrected franchise film is a virtually-guaranteed disaster: "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Starsky & Hutch," "Shaft." The odds are 40:1 that these pix will even be "ok."

There's wisdom in saying that you shouldn't dismiss a movie you haven't seen. And it's true that you can't judge something without experiencing it - you literally don't know what you're talking about. I often see movie trailers and think to myself, "Robin Williams in yet another awful family comedy," or "can't this actress find a different plot?" or, "and so continues the death of the romantic comedy." Expectations - and your personal taste - can mean more than anything…

The words "GI Joe" guarantee exotic battle locations.  They're extreme!

I can't believe I'm writing this, but "GI Joe" actually did its job reasonably well. I'm not recommending the movie, really, but you won't feel let down if you're even willing to consider something called "GI Joe: the Rise of Cobra." It's still money that could've gone into creating jobs or feeding the hungry, but I never felt insulted. And I expected to feel as insulted as I was during "The Island" (I don't veto friends' picks often).

A month ago, I was so horrifically bored - and so comfortable with the stop-at-any-time nature of online streaming - that I decided it would be an easy (if decadent) experiment to actually watch "GIJ:tRoC." I could always turn it off after 20 minutes when it was clear that it was the waste of time I expected it to be. Imagine my surprise when I watched it through to the end.

It wouldn't be GI Joe without shots of all their equipment.

Let me be clear: I didn't see a good picture, nor did I wish that I had seen this in the theaters. But I got a fairly decent effort when I expected pure trash.

Trash, like "The Musketeer" - a fight movie where most of the fights were under-lit and focused on the arms (or the area between the arms?) of two people duking it out. I expected something like "The DaVinci Code," a totally mis-played, overlong, dull mess. Or trash like the "Psycho" remake, aka "Crack Pipe: The Movie."

The makers of "GIJ:tRoC" followed a simple, time-tested, rule - know what kind of movie you're creating and then film it. To that end: Channing Tatum is a bland but brave American soldier. He's put in charge of transporting a dangerous new weapon, and his convoy is attacked by people with futuristic tech.

Even his ex flies over to beat on him. Our... stoic hero is saved from death by the appearance of a mysterious group of good guys who also possess advanced technology. CT survives, as does his partner, Marlon Wayans. Both men are blatantly hardcore, so they weasel their way into their savior's ranks.

Popular global sites must be put in danger. This is also what GI Joe is about.

This is how our two outsiders are thrown into the world of "GI Joe," an extremely improbable assembly of the best soldiers from around the world (those are some selfless nations). This multi-ethnic band of good-looking adrenaline junkies takes on the biggest, scariest threats to global peace and security.

As the movie goes on, we see the Tatum and Wayans shoulder their way into the organization. They struggle to fit in with the fine warriors around them. They encounter and thwart a mega-threat that could destabilize all the governments on the planet. They also find love, betrayal, and peril.

Like a lot of toyline-based movies, there are many characters and many plots come with them. It's all silly, but it's handled well enough here: Snake Eyes has a typical ninja/kung-fu revenge story. The lead accidentally killed his ex's brother (ouch!). Tatum ran away from her before, yet now must confront the gorgeous bad girl (Sienna Miller) who fights like a tiger and wears what I call "hot librarian glasses." There are a lot of chases, and a ton of CGI, and that's pretty much it.

Your ex went evil. At least she switched to this look, right?
Any modern-day film version of the 1980's "GI: Joe" cartoon would have a fairly simple set of requirements: show a broad team of do-gooders with situation-appropriate combat specialties; show multiple enemies with a ridiculous evil plan; the enemies present a massive threat to one/every country, and the two groups fight. While this picture wasn't a summer thrill-ride to compare with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Die Hard," they did actually accomplish what they needed to make a "GI: Joe" movie.

The visual effects are good. The plot is acceptably senseless, by summer blockbuster standards. The pace is mercifully quick, jumping from moment to moment and scene to scene in a way that gives the movie a brisk flow. I liked the quick little club/house beats that mark almost every change from one scene to the next; I laughed at how often and how predictably they were used. But at least they were nice little club/house beats.

There are so many reasons to laugh at this picture.  It's beautiful.

The dialogue can feel fairly dull, but the surprising cast reads their lines well enough that you won't care. Since the villains include Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, and Christopher Eccleston, their speeches come across astonishingly well.

The heroes aren't as smooth, though. Channing Tatum is shockingly decent, yet so stiff/blank at times that it was almost cute. Dennis Quaid is just odd; he's clearly having a good time, yet still can't save some terrible lines. Rachel Nichols gets a talky role, but it's not a smooth performance. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from "Lost") is a strong actor who is given shamefully too little to do or say.

On balance, even those flaws don't undermine the film. Quick action that's easy to follow combines with straight-forward, but appropriately insane, plotting. The result is a picture that does what it set out to do and isn't awful. This puts "GIJ:tRoC" above many high-budget efforts that fell flat on their face. And this time, I won't care that the standards weren't high…

Let me put this all in perspective: "Enemy at the Gates" was a WWII film with a standout cast. It was a trainwreck because the film-makers tried to make a love story/war film/critique of Communism that felt shallow and ineffective on every front. Sometimes when you try to grab everything, you come up with nothing. "Austin Powers 2" re-hashed almost every single joke from its predecessor, showing no imagination whatsoever. Mike Myers' crimes against film worsened in "The Cat in the Hat," a live action Dr. Seuss story that made jokes about Michael Ovitz and therapy and a bunch of other things that neither fit the story nor appeal to the intended audiences.

"GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra" isn't a must-see, even for action and fx fans. I will say that finally there was a Summer blockbuster, and it was a cheap effort at reviving a kid-friendly franchise that was never especially interesting or relevant, and it did a reasonably good job. Don't watch this picture - you could be learning a foreign language. But don't feel ashamed if you did, even if you enjoyed it a little. It's not "Maid to Order" or "Resident Evil: Revulsion."

In the meantime, keep your friends close, and your leather-clad evil ex-girlfriend closer.

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