August 13, 2009

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G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PG-13)
Director Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing) gives us the world’s longest action figure commercial with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Sure, those prequel Star Wars movies were all pretty long and mostly about selling action figures, but moments of nostalgia helped to obscure that at points in the film. Here, no young Greedos or proto-Leia hair buns can distract you from thoughts of “I wonder how much that ninja will hurt when I step on him with my bare feet” or “I wonder how much that whale-shaped sea craft will cost when I have to buy it this Christmas.” See, I have a nine-year-old stepson and this movie seems to have been built entirely to bedazzle him with explosions and then sell him stuff (or, more specifically, sell him on the idea of asking those of us with the wallets to buy stuff).

Somewhere in all the mishmash of ka-booms and laser-y waap-waahs (some of which shoot out a kind of shiny blue C.G.I. tornado), there’s the story of the G.I. Joes — an elite fighting force made of soldiers from around the world — and a guy named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) who owns an all-powerful weapons company called M.A.R.S. A briefcase full of nanobots that he was delivering to NATO forces is nearly stolen from U.S. soldiers led by Ripcord (Marion Wayans) and Duke (Channing Tatum) by a force of bad guys led by Baroness (Sienna Miller), who is also called Ana. But then a group of Joes shows up and after a boring fight wherein you can’t tell the bad guys from the good guys (unless you’re filing away the specifics of their weaponry for your Christmas list) Duke still has the briefcase. Thus having proved himself, he and Ripcord are brought into the Joe fold and allowed to help track down Baroness and uncover the nefarious scheme behind the attempt to steal the nanobots.

Meanwhile, at most of the fight scenes, two ninjas face off: good guy ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and bad guy ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee).

And even with all this ninja-on-ninja violence, the fight scenes are still boring.

There is nothing at stake in this movie, no real tension, no character we really come to give one melted toy army man about (despite the many attempts to make us care by showing us backstory on Duke and Ana and the two ninjas). In fact, many of the inevitable faceless henchmen (often literally faceless, as one of the gimmicks of the bad-guy army is that they all wear these face mask armor things) had the look of a scattered bucket of cheap plastic army men — heightening the thoughts of what each likely-$4.95-costing character will look like littering your living room and underlining what remarkably lame C.G.I. fills this C.G.I.-focused movie. They couldn’t even make sand look real — instead it looks like pixilated caramel, much faker than even the sand in Sommers’ previous Mummy movies.

The acting is much worse than that in any of the Mummy movies as well. Dennis Quaid’s General Hawk delivers most of his lines like he’s constipated. Kids providing the voices to the G.I. Joes while reenacting battles in their backyards would have brought equal depth to the assorted good-guy performances. The villains all remind me of nothing so much as Dr. Claw from the old Inspector Gadget cartoons; I expect them to all be stroking cats as they cackle out their malevolent plans. And I suppose you could say that that’s where the nostalgia is — in the references to the 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon and the old toys. But that’s a thin slice of the Gen-X viewing public to go for, particularly since you’d have to have more specific memories of the cartoons than I do to make these characters interesting. C-

Rated PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout. Directed by Stephen Sommers and written by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett, G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is an hour and 58 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.