15 August 2009

Flawed G Nius

As most of you will probably know, I'm in possession of a much-used Cineworld Unlimited card. That I retain my youthful looks in spite of some of the dross I see in the name of entertaining you lot with my reactions makes me suspect that somewhere down the line, a portrait has been painted of me that now sits in an attic, going bald and looking increasingly angry with film that splatters on the big screen. I open this post not to be negative, but to very much hammer home the point that I wouldn't see half of these films if it weren't costing me a mere £13.50 a month (equivalent to just two tickets) to see around six to eight films.

I saw two films in particular this week that I wouldn't ever see in cinemas if I were forking out £6.80 a visit, and they are G-Force and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. As it is, rants aren't really in order for either of these films, and I'll be reviewing them today. As ever, mild spoilers may crop up here and there but not so far as to reveal any major plot developments.


Who's in it?
A fairly sterling voice cast includes Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Penelope Cruz, with the live action cast comprising Bill Nighy and Zach Galifianakis.

What's it all about?
Highly trained guinea pigs are deployed by an eccentric FBI developer (Galifianakis) to prevent electronics mogul Leonard Saber (Nighy) from, you guessed it, taking over the world.

Any good? "I see dead people."
"Here's lookin' at you, kid."
"You had me at hello."
"These go up to eleven."
"There is no spoon."

What do all of the above phrases have in common? They're quotes that would go over the heads of children if they heard them in the latest Disney family fare, and would similarly fail to make most adults laugh. So why G-Force is so chockful of such lines, pandering to an audience who would (and in my case, should) probably know better than to see it, is beyond my comprehension as a film goer. John McTiernan can hardly have directed Die Hard with the aim of turning Bruce Willis' "Yippi-kay-ay, motherfucker" into a line so iconic that it was referenced in a PG Disney film with talking guinea pigs as secret agents. Although the quoting immediately struck me as an issue to open this review on, I can't avoid mentioning that this is one of those high-concept Disney family films that we occasionally see (like Bedtime Stories or The Pacifier) that singularly fails to entertain most people over the age of 12. And yet it's pandering to a much older audience, a catch-all technique also employed by Transformers, my favourite film ever. Additionally, the main threat to the world here is comprised of transforming electrical appliances, leading some to say that the film is "Alvin and the Chipmunks, if it were directed by Michael Bay".

While that succinct review did make me chuckle, I can't fairly attach such a label to G-Force, because it's not a Michael Bay film, and it is slightly elevated by its cast. The trailer for this was so terrible that I audibly cried out when I recognised Bill Nighy. "What have they done to you, Bill?", I wondered, loudly and desperately, as my younger companions shushed me. So I had to get down from the cinema seat I hadn't realised I was standing on and stop throwing things at this seemingly innocuous family adventure that was being advertised. As it is, Bill Nighy is criminally underused for an actor of his calibre, but he makes the best of the cardboard antagonist he's given. Likewise, Zach Galifianakis, he of The Hangover, is endearing enough as the mad bastard who's pitching the G-Force programme to the FBI. I can't really fault the voice work either, as everyone makes the best of the hideous stereotypes they're given- Tracy Morgan is African-American comic-relief guinea pig, Penelope Cruz is Latina-with-feminine-wiles guinea pig, and it's all slightly tired.

The ultimate measure of all films like this is whether or not kids will enjoy it- they are the target audience, after all. And with my youngest brother's verdict of "it was alright", I must conclude that G-Force is nothing special. It's not awful enough to make me shout and scream, but it's burrowed comfortably into whatever is lining the floor of the summer movie season without standing proudly in its own droppings. I suspect few will want to take it home and keep it, but you might go "Aww" when you see it.


Who's in it?
Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans apply their not-considerable acting wiles to the lead roles, while Christopher Eccleston, Dennis Quaid and Sienna Miller cover the slack.

What's it all about? Arms manufacturer James McCullen (Eccleston) and his organisation, COBRA, are about to make his mark on the world with the use of a revolutionary new warhead, but first they must eliminate the elite government unit that protects against such threats- G.I. JOE. With the help of new recruits Duke (Tatum) and Ripcord (Wayans), it falls to the Joes to save the world from COBRA.

Any good? I honestly do try not to invoke Michael Bay in every review, but in the midst of the summer blockbuster season, in a year when he's had a godawful film out, I'm merely covering the back of every other film by saying it's not as bad as his. Here of course, I have cause to mention this cinematic Lord Voldemort, with G.I. Joe being the second film of the summer to come from the slightly dubious production company Hasbro, who are of course better known for the toys. So with expectations that the film would be another ludicrously expensive and painful toy advert, I must declare myself surprised by what Stephen Sommers has offered up. I'm a fan of his Mummy films, and he's invested the same fun adventurous spirit in this effort, right down to casting Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo against one another, although the formula is sadly underused. What this makes for is a rather enjoyable family action film. It's not perfect, but that should really go without saying.

Look at that premise again for a moment. Does anyone remember Team America World Police? I thought you might, and the similarities go beyond that when you're watching the film itself. The Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity (what the acronym stands for) pretty much polices the world in the way Team America did, and oh look, the Eiffel Tower falls down as they go about in their Earth-protecting duties. Somewhere Parker and Stone are laughing. That's only if you've seen their film though- the more ostensible problem is the lack of simplicity. I stand by the fact that it's self-aware as a kid's world, with "toyetic" weapons and vehicles, but the labours put into back story are remarkable for a film like this. Sommers should really have kept things simple, as the number of flashbacks is what boosts the film up to its two hour running-time, when a couple of lines referencing the characters' pasts would've done much better. The most ludicrous of these is when the teams' two opposing Stig-like samurai come face to face and the line "Hello, brother" smash cuts away to a shot of two children play-fighting. Just in case some people in the audience don't know what brothers are.

That said, Sommers never patronises his audience, and if he had, I doubt he would've attracted the likes of Dennis Quaid or Christopher Eccleston. Quaid is sadly underused, but Eccleston sinks his teeth into his villain role without totally hamming it up, even if that Scottish accent is a little off. The mild titillation from Rachel Nicholls and Sienna Miller never reaches Megan Fox-like levels, mostly because both of these women are capable actresses. Of course this isn't the best thing any of the cast have been in, but they all acquit themselves well. Even Marlon Wayans, or Jar-Jar Binks in human form as I am more partial to calling him, manages to be less annoying than in anything else I've seen him in, and Channing Tatum's blandness is fairly inoffensive. On the other hand, Jonathan Pryce is underused too, and seems to have been cast as the President entirely with the sequel in mind. This is talismanic of the whole film, actually- a whole sub-plot is dedicated to the ending sequel hook, and I hope the already-announced sequel doesn't discard the entertainment factor of its predecessor when it shows up in cinemas.

Whether the sequel manages to be better or not, The Rise of Cobra is a cheesy but fun action film that doesn't exist solely to sell toys, but might have been better served by cuts to ensure a PG certificate. It's not as bad as Transformers, Kids will be enthralled and parents won't fall asleep or want to self-destruct halfway through, and I was entertained too. It proves the need for some films to be preceded by an Orange advert that tells you to switch your brain off so you don't ruin the film.

Tonight, I'm going to see a little film called Inglourious Basterds, so that's probably next for the Mad Prophet treatment. I did also see The Time Traveler's Wife last night, so you can expect that too. Quick thing as well- if you're reading can you leave a comment? It's always good to hear feedback, and I only ever know you're here if you text me or see me drunk in town. Thanks muchly.

I'm Mark, the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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