256) G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) Dir: Stephen Sommers Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 17, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a weird jumble of highly impersonal and idiosyncratic creative decisions made respectively, in all likelihood, by the hive mind of Hasbro toy executives that own the rights to the G.I. Joe action figures and writer/director Stephen Sommers and his four co-writers. The result is a an All-American fantasy that takes the chest-thumping zeal of 24* and expands it to fit comic book heroes that only marginally made sense within the contemporary political context of their original comic books/cartoons/action figures/lunch boxes. I'd like to focus on the latter of the two imaginative forces at work in the new G.I. Joe film, because the former is too obvious a target to really interest me. And yes, you may assume from that and my weak star rating that I did in fact kinda, sorta like the film...just a lil bit.
Sommers and co. clearly tried to make their G.I. Joe the pet project they dreamed of--nobody but fans would want to revive the franchise almost two decades past its prime--but for various reasons, it never comes together. The plot is too distended and all over the place to be worth taking seriously and half of the film's action sequences are too sleepy to be memorable (the second and fourth fight scenes stank but the opening sequence and the one in Paris were both good, silly fun).
But there are signs of intelligence in the film, like its dogged insistence on including comic-book-like flashback interludes, which Sommers probably should have excised for the sake of making a leaner product. These sequences are failed signs that Sommers is throwing a lot of things against a wall to see what sticks and a lot of them just don't.
What is commendable about the film, apart from its two genuinely exciting action sequences, is its stacked cast of eclectic performers. Yeah, yeah, it wouldn't be a Stephen Sommers film without cameos from Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo, but the casting of many of the film's heavy-hitters shows an attention to detail that goes well beyond just a bad studio-made film. Though both stuntman Ray Park and Korean star Byung-hun Lee had dull roles and distracting costumes--Lee's white suit and the lips on Park's helmet make for easy targets--both the film's big baddies, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, steal scenes effortlessly with uncommon swagger. Gordon-Levitt's performance in particular was pretty terrific, expertly camping it up with an unidentifiable rasp of an accent and a hulking shuffle. His performance is a worthy successor to Gary Oldman's in The Fifth Element. If only there were other signs that somebody, anybody in the film was having as much fun as him.
*Sorry but the "Team America without the jokes" angle that many of my critical comrades have adopted makes no sense to me. 24 is closer to what G.I. Joe is like because it's just as relentless and single-minded in its dedication to a convoluted and increasingly preposterous scenario devoid of a complex international worldview (Like 24, its sense of who its enemy is is too shallow, especially in its dual presentation of the evil foreign bad guys and the multi-culti good guys, to bear a serious political agenda). G.I. Joe's world is just constructed with broader brushstrokes.