The Hasbro logo is writ large across the screen during the opening credits of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, reminding you the picture you’re about to see is more toy commercial than movie. As far as $175 million advertisements go, G.I. Joe isn’t altogether bad, although it’s a little on the long side (118 minutes) and it has a few too many scenes of people saying things like “When all else fails, we don’t,” which sounds more like an ad for insurance.
The lame dialogue is particularly hard on Dennis Quaid, who plays the leader of an international squad of super soldiers who get called in to save the day when regular troops can’t. Quaid is normally a fine actor, but you wouldn’t know it by his performance in G.I. Joe, which consists largely of standing around in authoritarian positions, telling other people what to do. Quaid's mind seems to be elsewhere, as if he was already thinking about the extension to the family home his G.I. Joe paycheck is going to cover.
Other members in the large cast - which includes Channing Tatum and Marlon “I’m the Comic Relief” Wayans as Quaid’s two newest charges, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an evil brainiac and Sienna Miller as a good soldier gone bad - fare a little better, although G. I. Joe is never going to be remembered for the strength of its acting. This is a movie for people who refer to special effects as “graphics” and who think Michael Bay’s action scenes are just too damn slow.
Director Stephen Sommers, who loves computer-generated imagery so much he really should go work at Pixar, doesn’t allow a single moment of anything resembling human emotion to intrude in his two-hour festival of clanging metal and steel. There are more schnikts of swords and knives being drawn in G. I. Joe than there are at a Ginsu convention. There are also at least seven flashbacks, the trusted friend of the hack screenwriter, although there may be a couple more I’m just not remembering. This is not exactly the kind of movie that stays with you.
Most of G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which was intended as the first in a series, rushes past in a blur, with only one scene actually worth seeing: a long and well-orchestrated mid-film chase in which the good guys, using suits that give them superhuman speed and strength, race to stop a Humvee loaded with high-tech explosives from reaching the Eiffel Tower. Even though most of the cars and stunts in the sequence were created entirely on computers, the chase still achieves the cheeky, anything-goes energy the rest of G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra aimed for.
I was grateful for the scenes involving Jonathan Pryce as the U.S. president, who spends most of the movie wringing his hands inside the Oval Office while his aides burst in to deliver chunks of exposition. They helped me keep up with the plot, which at first seems infinitely complicated (there are a minimum of five villains here), but eventually comes down to the same-old cackling madman with a foreign accent who wants to rule the world.
G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra isn’t soul-suckingly bad, like The Ugly Truth was. It's just stupid and inept, which are not uncommon traits at the tail end of the summer movie season. When put in the difficult position of defending the studio’s decision not to screen G.I. Joe in advance for critics, Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore said “We want audiences to define this film.” I'd start by changing the title to something more honest, like G.I. Joe: There Goes the Franchise.