Action heroes are known for arriving in the nick of time, but movie reviewers often don't have the luxury of operating in such dashing fashion. Certainly, the fact that Paramount Pictures didn't screen G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in advance for critics prevented the nation's scribes from weighing in on the merits of the last of the summer '09 blockbusters on opening day. Yet while it's accepted that Paramount kept the movie quarantined from the legitimate press (some fanboy bloggers were allowed to screen it early and predictably reacted like 14-year-olds discovering porn) because the studio suits themselves knew that the film stunk on ice, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I believe they kept it from the critics as an act of mercy.
Of course, the studio's benevolent gesture was in vain, since several critics felt it their patriotic duty to check it out anyway. ("The Few. The Proud. The Masochistic"?) This is the second film this summer to be based on a line of Hasbro toys, and the good news is that it's better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Of course, then comes the sobering afterthought: Pretty much every movie this summer has been better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. At any rate, this isn't G.I. Joe so much as it's C.G.I. Joe, a nonstop orgy of computer imagery and pretty much what we'd expect from the director of the execrable Van Helsing and two dopey Mummy movies.
Tatum Channing, certainly more plastic than any of the G.I. Joe action figures I owned as a child, plays Duke, a dedicated soldier who, along with best bud Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), joins the elite commando squad in order to help take down a megalomaniac (Christopher Eccleston) bent on ruling the world. Duke's particularly perturbed because his former girlfriend Ana (Sienna Miller) is now an enemy agent, but both actors are so dull that they seem to have wandered in straight from the set of a soap opera. Wayans tries to provide some pep, but because his contract specifically states that the actor receive the lion's share of the script's truly atrocious lines, he's rendered ineffectual every time he opens his mouth.
Nobody's going to this film looking for quality acting, which makes the presence of several capable performers all the more perfunctory: Among those cashing checks are Dennis Quaid as the heroes' commanding officer, an unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a 180 from (500) Days of Summer to portray a mad doctor, and Jonathan Pryce as an ineffectual U.S. president (no mention of whether his health care plan passed). But those who claim that action yarns don't even need sound actors or competent direction or compelling story lines are either not thinking the argument through or have become too shell-shocked to note the obvious differences between, say, Van Helsing and The Dark Knight, between Transformers: ROTF and District 9. Yes, there are a few rousing set-pieces in G.I. Joe, but for the most part, the action is unfocused, the effects are iffy, and the thrills are fleeting. Young boys will probably get a kick out of the movie, but everyone else will notice that the entertainment value is clearly MIA.