"Are you soulless right now?" Emily Watson asks Paul Giamatti in horror at one point in the marvelous Cold Souls.
Were the question directed at G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the answer would be a deafening yes. This is the movie as pure product without soul or inspiration. It was blueprinted rather than created, assembled by drones to be shown to drones, who will walk out of it and, when asked to describe it, drone on.
This product comes from the dreaded Stephen Sommers, who has made a career of despoiling classic texts of all kinds. From Huckleberry Finn to The Jungle Book to The Mummy, Sommers specializes in taking much-loved works, stripping them of nuance and giving them the cinematic equivalent of Red Bull -- an injection of artificial energy that leads to an inevitable crash once the sugar/caffeine rush wears off.
His jazz-it-up approach has nothing to do with exploring the substance of the work; Sommers is more interested in adding a superficial gloss of hyperkinetic style to keep attention-challenged viewers from actually having to think about what they're watching. In his dreams, Stephen Sommers is Michael Bay.
Not that there's much text to delve into here: This is, after all, a movie based on a toy and the cartoon series it inspired. It's the circle of merchandising, turned into a slimy Moebius strip.
This whole movie consists of action beats, separated by filler that serves as connective tissue. It is one long set of explosions, especially fiery explosions underwater -- lots of them, in defiance of that outdated conventional wisdom about the antipathy between flames and moisture. The explosions are interrupted by shooting, chasing and, occasionally, hand-to-hand combat -- how old-school is that?
Besides fire so insistent that it erupts under ocean, the alternate reality of SommersWorld also includes ice that sinks. Yes, that's right - at a climactic moment, when an explosion loosens a polar ice covering, the ice itself plummets to the bottom of the ocean, unlike that ordinary ice you find in your drinks, which floats at the top.
There is no single character named G.I. Joe, despite the fact that this was the name of boys' answer to Barbie back in the day. Rather, the G.I. Joes are an elite squad of specialized fighters, each with his own superpower, er, special talent. The squad is run by Dennis Quaid, in a stern "This one's for the paycheck" mode.
The group recruits a tough-guy soldier named Duke (the stiffly beefy Channing Tatum) and his wisecracking pal Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) for its latest mission: guarding a secret nanotechnology weapon. When it's stolen by the equally becostumed team of bad guys, the Joes' mission turns to saving the world from that secret weapon.
It barely qualifies as a plot. Characters? Not really -- just costumes. Excitement? Well, no - lots of action but no real excitement. As the saying goes, lots of light but not much heat. Lots of sizzle; not much steak. You get the idea.
Paramount decided not to screen this film for critics, fearing the kind of vituperative response that Transformers 2 received -- and who can blame them? Wouldn't you want to make a killing at the box office for at least a day before the media start blaring the news that your product stinks like week-old fish?
Not that bad reviews kept the sheep away from Transformers 2. So it will be with G.I. Joe: Reviews won't hurt it because the people this film is meant to entertain are subliterate. Just like the movie.
For more of my reviews, interviews and commentary, visit my website: www.hollywoodandfine.com.
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