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Where in the world is "G.I. Joe"?

Posted by Ty Burr  August 5, 2009 02:00 PM

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Per the Hollywood Reporter and other outlets, the weekend's big movie isn't screening for critics. While this isn't a surprise to the critics themselves -- we were informed about this over a week ago -- it is an unusual step for a studio to take when they've got a $175 million tentpole ready to unveil. Is "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" really that bad? And does it matter?

Yes and no. Paramount spokespeople are saying they want to protect their new action extravaganza from the kind of nuclear reviews "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" received. "We want audiences to define this film," in the words of studio vice chairman Rob Moore.

Who is he kidding? "Transformers: ROTF" is the definition of "critic proof." The slings and arrows of the reviewing community gave bloggers a few days of link-worthy schadenfreude, but the movie itself has rolled up almost $400 million in the US alone and is currently at No. 9 on the all-time box office list. "G.I. Joe" should be as unlucky.

The difference is that the "Transformers" sequel was pre-sold -- audiences knew what they were going to get and didn't need input from other sources, print, online, whatever. "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," on the other hand, is an expensive and, for the studio, risky attempt to establish a new franchise, one based on a toy that has never really had the cool-factor of Optimus Prime and his pals. So in that sense they're right to be wary.

Still, can bad reviews bring down a blockbuster? I don't think anyone but my most devoted readers (hi, mom) really care what I think about a summer explode-o-rama, even if I happen to love it (as I did, say, "Star Trek"). Movie critics are put on earth first to alert you to good movies you might otherwise miss, then to cut through the PR fog and consider the actual worth of a given film (depending on what, exactly, it hopes to achieve). With certain types of movie -- typically smaller, more ambitious fare attended by people who regularly read reviews -- a critic can mean the difference between a successful run and an early DVD release. But blockbusters? In most cases, we're BBs bouncing off the hide of an elephant.

I can think of a few critical pile-ons that helped speed a big studio movie's demise -- "Gigli," for one, and "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat." But the former arrived in theaters awash in weeks of lethal pop-culture buzz, and the latter's crassness was so dissonant with the tone of the original book that family audiences were repelled. The negative reviews, in both cases, were an entertaining sideshow and little more.

Paramount, it seems, doesn't even want the sideshow. But that's running true to form for studio marketing departments in general and this one in particular: These are the same people who went ballistic when my editor decided to run my four-star rave for "Star Trek" a few days early. From a business standpoint, it makes sense: They're paid to be the control freaks who ensure that the investment risk -- in the case of "G.I. Joe," a sizable and untested one -- is minimized and that the dominant message will be the PR party line: It's all good, so get in line and shut up. Reviewers to them aren't a necessary evil, we're just an occasionally useful annoyance at best and a dent in the bottom line at worst. (To readers, we're more than that, I hope: Taken together, we can comprise a fog of truthful opinion that counterbalances studio spin. Word-of-mouth and internet user reviews serve the same function, of course, but may not connect as many dots or provide as much context. Operative word: May.)

That said, I don't think it was the critical slagging "Transformers: ROTF" received but rather its massive box office that made Paramount decide to keep "G.I. Joe" under wraps. If all the Anton Egos hate your movie and it still makes millions, who needs reviews? I'll still be at the first public screening Friday morning, and my review will post later that day -- and who knows? I may even like the movie. But Paramount, I guess, can congratulate itself for not having knowingly harmed the property. And there's the difference, right there. You and I see a movie. The suits see a brand.

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12 comments so far...
  1. This movie will fail to generate interest in older fans because it is a travesty to what GI Joe was all about. Accelerator suits? Give me a break.

    Posted by dave August 5, 09 04:13 PM
  1. @ Dave post#1 - Transformers did the same thing to the older fans. 2 movies, each a 2 hour GM commercial. Bumblebee the VW Bug is now a Camaro for god's sake! And a swiss-cheese storyline. Transformers sold itself out - to the tune of $400 Million.
    I'm guessing the producers of GI Joe are hoping for the same "travesty." You have to remember GI Joe action figures made a huge change, going from 12" tall to about 3" between the 70's and 80's. Now they'll get to toss Accellerator Suits on everything and tack a few crisp $20 bills to every sale. It's good to be a corporation in the 21st century.

    Posted by Brian August 5, 09 04:53 PM
  1. If the previews are any sign of what's to come, I adamantly do NOT want to see this movie. It looks nothing at all like GI Joe; the casting decisions are terrible at best; Kid Rock's American Badass in the preview spells disaster (mindless, dumb effects flick); the settings shown are absurd; no plotline; fight scenes meant to appeal to the violence-for-the-sake-of-violence lovers; it's just horrible looking. I hope it fails miserably; alas, it won't. We can only hope the sequel is more thought out.

    Posted by GI Joe August 5, 09 04:57 PM
  1. I'd go if a reviewer would promise that there are multiple extended scenes with a topless Channing Tatum.

    Posted by btmitch August 5, 09 05:04 PM
  1. to be honest, I don't care whether it even resembles the old g.i.joe . everyone bitched and complained when the first pics of transformers came out, then the same critic wannabe's cheered for the movie after the first day . same dumbasses bitched and blogged when they heard Heath ledger was to be joker. need I continue? seems everyone has their panties in a twist over these eccelleration suit things. cripes, is that really what you're whining about? here's your solution to this world shaking problem. ready?......don't watch it . tadaaa!

    Posted by Darren August 5, 09 05:05 PM
  1. As an old-school Joe supporter (YO JOE!), I'm interested to see how they've adapted the mythos. I plan on reserving actual judgement (although I readily admit my own favorable bias) until the end credits roll.

    "A Real American Hero. G.I. is there!"

    Posted by Ben August 5, 09 05:49 PM
  1. Wow, "GI Joe" poster....
    "I hope it fails miserably; alas, it won't. We can only hope the sequel is more thought out."

    Thats the dumbest statement I have read in a VERY VERY long time on these boards...and theres some dumb ones out there about the Gates thing. You have ABSOLUTELY no idea what the movie is about. You have NO idea what the plot line will detail. You have NO IDEA how moronic you sound judging a movie no one has seen and already are asking for a better sequel. Go enjoy a Jonas Brothers concert or something.

    Posted by Mark August 5, 09 05:55 PM
  1. I loved GI Joe as a kid, it was one of the defining reason I have spent almost 18 years in uniform. If Iraq had a damn movie theatre I would kill to see this movie.

    The only think I miss is that my son will see it for the first time without me. All the better since I would be the giddy school girl one out of the two us :)

    As far as all the people who say Gi Joe was never international. It made several forays into it with Covergirl and later with the russians that were added. I dont mind, we live in an international world. One that whether they like us or not know we still are the ones who are kciking ass.

    Go joe and please, no matter what happens, bring back the damn Hovercraft!!! I LOVED that toy!!!

    Posted by CPT Jason Edwards August 5, 09 07:18 PM
  1. Darren, your opinion has been noted and properly discarded. G.I. Joe has always, and I mean ALWAYS been about ordinary soldiers with unusual skills or abilities and only included as much sci-fi as it did in both the comics and cartoon as it did to keep Hasbro happy.

    Brian, Transformers worked because the concept itself is somewhat timeless. A lot of the characters in G.I. Joe have backgrounds that are not timeless, ie. many are Vietnam era vets and there was no sliding time scale like with most comic books. If the producers wanted to go uber sci-fi with this what they SHOULD have done was make it a second generation conflict with most of the original characters dead or retired.

    Posted by dave August 5, 09 08:55 PM
  1. Jeez. Let's all just - uuuh, oh I don't know - see the movie first...?

    Gotta love the "G.I. Joe" poster at #3, who apparently has seen a sneak preview already somehow, getting all up in arms about an ACTION flick having "fight scenes meant to appeal to the violence-for-the-sake-of-violence lovers" ...because usually fight scenes aren't violent. Sounds like someone who lives to complain just to hear their own voice b!tching about something/anything. Enjoy going through life manufacturing reasons to whine.

    Let's just reserve judgement until any of us are educated enough to comment with any actual perspective.

    Posted by UMA August 6, 09 08:47 AM
  1. First of all, there is no need for anyone to put Transformers and G.I. Joe in the same sentence - they are two totally different movies with two different types of people that go see them. I personally have seen Transformers 4 times at the show, and will get it on DVD once it comes out. If you are a TRUE fan of these movies - be it G.I, Joe, Transformers, Star Wars, whatever - you will go to see them no matter what the critics say.

    Posted by Paula August 6, 09 10:46 AM
  1. Looks like it'll be a good movie. The critics hated Transformers 2 but the audience loved it.

    Posted by Alan Smith August 6, 09 12:35 PM

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

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