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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Dennis Quaid is one of the few actors to escape G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra with their dignity intact.
When I was a kid, I had a G.I. Joe action figure. He was about 12 inches tall, had a fuzzy head of hair, and represented the common soldier. As I sat watching the new movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I kept waiting to see who was going to play G.I. Joe. Hmm, not Channing Tatum. Not Marlon Wayans. Not even Dennis Quaid. It turns out that the Hasbro toy on which the film is based evolved at some point, and the term "G.I. Joe" now refers to a top-secret government team and not a specific person. Shows what I know.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to many viewers, who are no doubt very familiar with the popular cartoon show and (apparently) comic book series. I can't say whether fans of the franchise will like this movie or not - although a friend whose opinion I trust greatly told me he's never been more "nerd-pissed" by a film. However, I can say that as a relative newcomer, The Rise of Cobra is 1.) largely impenetrable; and 2.) pretty damn unlikely to ever make you want to experience anything else G.I. Joe-related.

This is the space where a plot synopsis usually goes. I don't have one, because I really didn't understand much of what was going on. There's an arms dealer named Destro (Christopher Eccleston) who plans to take over the world using…what are they?…some kind of little remote-controlled germs that burn things like acid. Tatum and Wayans play Duke and Ripcord, United States soldiers who are recruited by General Hawk (Quaid) to join an elite combat squad to stop Destro from, uh, whatever it is he's trying to do. Any good hero or villain obviously needs a sexy female colleague to wear very low-cut outfits for inspiration, and indeed Destro has Baroness (Sienna Miller) and Duke/Ripcord have Scarlett (Rachel Nichols). Here's a puzzler: Baroness used to be known as Ana and was Duke's fiancée before a tragedy tore them apart and Destro made her forget she loves Duke by injecting her with the wonder germs. I think.

Did I mention the ninjas? There are two of them: one in a black uniform and one in a white uniform. (It's almost impossible not to think of Mad Magazine's "Spy vs. Spy" when you see them.) I am told that these characters, named Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, are fan favorites. This came as a surprise to me, as they seem to have little, if any, relevance here. As with many of the characters, their introduction is so under-developed that anyone not already familiar with them would wonder why they've been included.

You may have heard that G.I. Joe had some notorious bad buzz prior to its release. I won't rehash it here. I can only judge a movie by what's up on screen, and for whatever reason the picture is a complete mess. It has an incomprehensible plot that seems to have been stitched together, lazy acting (wake up, Channing Tatum - the camera's rolling!), and a seemingly endless barrage of dull action scenes. How dull? Get this: one of the film's set pieces involves the destruction of the Eiffel Tower. A world famous landmark toppling? How original!

I could go on and on about the ludicrousness of the action, including the strange metal "acceleration suits" that allow Hawk and Ripcord to bounce and smash their way through Paris like the unholy devil spawn of Tigger and RoboCop. If it's all right with you, I'll just skip to the bottom line instead. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra features constant mayhem, and by mayhem, I mean things blowing up left and right. It is an action movie in the sense that it contains action and absolutely nothing else. There are so many explosions in the film that I'm surprised director Stephen Sommers didn't rig the actual print to blow up in the projector "Mission Impossible"-style after the end credits.

Some folks like this kind of thing. The more action and the fewer distractions there are, the better. I am not one of those people. I don't mind if something blows up every five minutes so long as I'm given a reason to care why something is blowing up every five minutes. Like June's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, G.I. Joe thinks that constant, non-stop mayhem is sufficient enough. The truth is that the best pure action movies, whether it's Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, The Dark Knight or even the first Transformers, put wall-to-wall action into a context. Because we care about the plot and the characters, the mayhem has more relevance and is therefore more legitimately exciting. When presented for its own sake, as it is here, the mayhem is (sorry for the crudity) little more than cinematic masturbation.

In Mike Judge's criminally-underseen satire Idiocracy, Luke Wilson plays a guy who is sealed into hibernation and wakes up hundreds of years in the future. He stumbles upon a cinema playing the latest blockbuster called Ass: The Movie. Venturing inside, Wilson discovers that the picture is nothing more than a 90-minute shot of somebody's bare butt, with an occasional farting noise thrown in. For me, G.I. Joe was just like Ass: The Movie but with explosions instead of asses. Of course, the central joke in Idiocracy was that society had dumbed down substantially in 500 years. I certainly do not mean to imply that anyone who likes G.I. Joe is dumb (hey, you like what you like - and a scroll through my own archives will undoubtedly produce the occasional head-scratcher of a recommendation); I only mean that the experience was just as bewildering for me as Wilson's character's was for him. There simply isn't anything here except for shots of stuff blowing up. Thanks, but no thanks.

( 1/2 out of four)

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is rated PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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