Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" Review

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," didn't have the star power, the state-of-the-art special effects, or the epic trailer the sequel to Michael Bay's "Transformers" did, which is maybe in part why I found it so ludicrously, stupidly charming.

Despite a critical tongue-lashing, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" took in just shy of 110 million dollars in its opening weekend (for my unlubricated metal reaming, click here). The role and effect of professional film criticism were called into question. America had willingly seen a bad movie.

But unlike "Transformers," the war against "G.I. Joe" was fought much more intimately than from the critical Mount Olympus, domain of A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, and Peter Travers: "Joe" was being trashed by the back alley bloggers and the fanboys it wanted so desperately to impress.

The (admittedly terrible) trailer was widely ridiculed, and late rumors of the film being completely re-cut prompted tall tales of its legendary awfulness the internet over. These thoughts stirred in the back of my mind as the first reel began to unspool. Stephen Sommers' ("The Mummy," "The Mummy Returns," "Van Helsing") latest film opens... in 1641, France. Alright, you got me.

Silly childhood favorites suddenly sprung to mind, like "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," or "Independence Day," as more recent misunderstood TV-to-film experiments ("Speed Racer," "Land of the Lost,") resurfaced. All of a sudden "G.I. Joe" felt like an underdog. The imagery and the dialogue are often laughable at best, bad, unquestionably, but in a nostalgic, over-the-top, cartoony sort of way.

The plot is incomprehensible, but less so than the garbled mess of "Transformers 2," and the films are equally dumb. So why was it that as I sat in that curiously narrow theater, I suddenly felt compelled to come to old Joe's defense? It's not franchise nostalgia, as I was only peripherally aware of either series or toy line as a child. Somewhere between the obviously expositional flashbacks and the gleefully destructive actions sequences it struck me: I was having fun.

The pretension of the "Transformers" films, their high-contrast doom and gloom aesthetic, and those shared by equally uninteresting blockbusters like "Terminator Salvation" and "Watchmen" was replaced by full-fledged puppy-dog filmmaking that celebrates what makes those films fun, and yes, what makes them cheesy.

But even as a just-for-fun flick, "G.I. Joe" wears out its welcome by the end, during a forty minute submarine/airplane/ninja fight sequence that precedes a "Return of the King" esque bait and tease of false endings and fade-outs. Half the theater was in the aisle by the time the credits rolled.

It sounds silly to say, being the sort of movie-poster quote you scoff at on the way into the theater, but "G.I. Joe" is Stephen Sommers' best film, which, yeah, isn't saying much. Is "Rise of Cobra" worth your time, art snob? Probably not. It's not as innovative as "Speed Racer" or as funny as "Land of the Lost," but anyone that grew up watching early nineties television (as opposed to mid-eighties television, when the cartoon actually aired) might find a place for this campy action throwback in their hearts.

It's still got that stigma, though. Those stinky green lines that make even Michael Bay's most staunch supporters dry heave. The truth is "G.I. Joe" is twice the film "Revenge of the Fallen" is, forty minutes shorter, and an infinite amount more fun (zero times X is...).

But the best that can be said for old Government Issue Joe is that he knows his place. And knowing is half the battle.


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