Movie Review

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Apolitical playtime with ‘G.I. Joe’

By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / August 8, 2009

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Paramount has gone to a lot of trouble to keep its $175 million action extravaganza “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’’ from the prying eyes of critics and sneak-preview audiences. The studio says it hopes to avoid the sort of brutal catcalls that greeted “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,’’ a movie which, with almost $400 million in tickets sold, is no one’s idea of a victim.

The suits shouldn’t have bothered: “G.I. Joe’’ is a loud but proficient slab of explode-o-rama summer blockbuster nonsense, perfectly entertaining if you like that sort of thing, extremely skippable if you don’t. The difference between the “Transformers’’ franchise and this is the difference between the aggressively stupid and the acceptably dumb. In a spirit of pure generosity, I’ve awarded an extra half-star to “Joe’’ for not being a Michael Bay movie.

Any resemblance to actual soldiers and actual warfare is accidental, of course. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’’ is instead a simple and simple-minded superhero comic book with a vaguely military theme. The heroes of the super-secret international G.I. Joe team, taken from several earlier incarnations of TV series and video games, include blandly handsome Duke (Channing Tatum), ace flyboy and comic relief Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), silent ninja fighter Snake Eyes (Ray Park), computer genius Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui), and brainiac Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), all under the gruff command of General Hawk (Dennis Quaid).

Against them are a bunch of baddies bent on - what else? - world domination, and they’ve got nano-bombs that can make a meal out of the Eiffel Tower in minutes. They include Duke’s ex-girl-friend the Baroness (Sienna Miller), a sneering Scottish arms merchant (Christopher Eccleston), and, of all people, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that nice young man from “(500) Days of Summer,’’ as the supervillainous Doctor.

Park played Darth Maul in “Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace,’’ and he gets to restage that film’s climactic duel, complete with double-saber above a bottomless pit. Under the direction of Stephen Sommers, whose “Mummy’’ films are similarly hectic, deafening, and disposable, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’’ avoids gung-ho jingoism and commentary on real-world politics - thankfully, the movie understands it’s based on a line of plastic toys.

As such, it functions very much as the fantasy of a small boy with an overactive imagination and a limitless budget - your average Hollywood producer, say. At times it cheats: When Duke and Ripcord don high-tech “accelerator suits’’ and embark on a rock-em-sock-em chase through the streets of Paris, we’re moved way beyond both backyard play and genuine soldiering.

That sequence, by the way, is state-of-the-art mayhem in which landmarks collapse, buildings are incinerated, and hundreds of innocent bystanders are apparently killed. The characters never stop to notice and, really, why should they? It’s just the French.

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G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra

Directed by: Stephen Sommers

Written by: Sommers, Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett, Michael B. Gordon

Starring: Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, Ray Park

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 118 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout)

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