REVIEW: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Stephen Sommers, 2009)

It's all here: Secret Desert Headquarters Playset, Underwater Ice Base Battle Station... Super-Suit Ripcord, Underwater Ice Base Outfitted Duke... complete, of course, with life-like hair and a kung-fu grip. And none of that's to mention all the crazy cross-terrain vehicles! Stephen Sommers' image has been hurting since The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing farted through multiplexes, but with the famous Government Issue Joes in his bag of tricks, he's repairing his reputation.

What we have here is a grown man in touch with boyhood playing with a very expensive set of action figures. Our characters unashamedly parade through explosion-ridden war zones in gaudy, helmet-free get-ups or low-cut leathers. Their durability is tested as they fly from nowhere as if on reserve in a plastic lunchbox next to a PB&J to slam and crush or be slammed and crushed. They'll even somewhat randomly smooch, as boys are apt to make their figures do.

With crazy effects in at least 90% of the shots and nary a chance to breathe between hi-octane action sequences, Sommers is right at home and G.I. Joe is easily the best he's done since The Mummy. I do prefer my action a bit more kinetic a la the Wachowskis' work on the Matrix trilogy and Speed Racer, but I can still pay Joe far more compliments than most actioners. For example, I can actually tell what's going on when things get hectic! Where many films will bungle a man-to-man confrontation with claustrophobic extreme close-ups, leaving the audience lost until a death blow lands, Joe manages complete coherence for the attentive even on preposterously grand scales. Not only will you have three sides to a battle with soldiers in ATVs, jets and on foot, you'll encounter myriads of intricate gadgetry - established, explained (often visually) and executed effectively and excitingly in a manner of seconds.

Furthermore, each of these major sequences distinguishes itself from its fellows through colorful set pieces and uniquely dynamic choreography. Some practical sets even look like they were lit by a student of Mario Bava's filmography (or at least someone who can't get enough of Bava's Ercole al centro della terra).

If Joe's super suit has an Achilles' heel, it's Channing Tatum. He may fit the "Real American Hero" mold, but through stilted delivery he's giving Sam Worthington a run for his money in the shoulda-just-cast-a-cardboard-box category. The rest of the star-speckled ensemble makes up for it, though, featuring goofball Marlon Wayans, charisma machine Joseph Gordon-Levitt, always-impressive Rachel Nichols and Dennis Quaid, who here delights in a mountain of overacting. There's even a surprising - but fitting - cameo to round things out.

The Rise of Cobra isn't going to change any adult lives, but for its runtime (and maybe a few re-watches) it's an exuberant blast. For someone like me who more or less stuck to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Star Wars when it came to toys (with a few Spider-Man or X-Men cameos), this true blue Joe movie made me want to revert to youth and bust out my guy-dolls!

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