Posted by: znewkirk | October 20, 2009

Review: Couples Retreat

2009 | Director: Peter Billingsley | Writers: Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”), Vince Vaughn (The Break-Up”) and Jon Favreau (“Swingers”)

The fatal flaw in the otherwise-pleasantly bland “Couples Retreat” is what I like to refer to as Too Many Main Characters in the Same Movie Syndrome, or TMMCSMS. “Batman & Robin” suffered from TMMCSMS, as did “Pearl Harbor” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan”–the common thread between those films being that none of them won the Palme d‘Or at Cannes. Such a fate is destined for “Retreat” as well, though it’s doubtful that masterminds Vince Vaughn (“Clay Pigeons”) and Jon Favreau (director of “Elf”) were expecting anything other than a quick buck or 34.3 million.

These guys are in it, usually clothed

These guys are in it, usually clothed

“Retreat” stars Vaughn, Favreau, hot commodity Jason Bateman (TV’s “The Hogan Family”), and token minority Faizon Love as four unlikely friends who set off, along with significant others played by Malin Akerman (“Watchmen”), Kristin Davis (“Sex and the City”), Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), and Kali Hawk, for the exotic island of Eden for a week of couple’s therapy at the behest of Bateman and Bell, whose marriage is in the tank due to their infertility. But wait, there are more actors: Jean Reno (“Godzilla”) plays island owner and holistic nut job Marcel; Peter Serafinowicz is the resort manager; and Temuera Morrison (“Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”) slums around as Marcel’s bodyguard. Oh, and comedians John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong play significant roles as island therapists. Also,  Tasha Smith plays Love’s ex-wife, who may or may not want him back after crushing his delicate heart in a brutal divorce. And there’s a greasy yoga instructor played by Carlos Ponce, who, disconcertingly, insists upon wearing a series of neon-colored banana hammocks. TMMCSMS to the max.

Being that there is so little time for any personal arcs, the characters are drawn extra broadly so that it only takes a few seconds at the end of “Retreat” to wrap up the loose ends. Can control freak Bateman and put-upon wife Bell relax? Can chronic cheaters Favreau and Davis put the clamps on their wandering groins long enough to remember why they married in the first place? Can Vaughn and Akerman learn to focus on each other a little more in the maelstrom of their busy lives? Can black people also be in the movie, please, lest audiences find the whole “white friends on vacation” theme a little too racially exclusionary? (Test groups must have thought so!)

The thing is, “Retreat” really isn’t a bad movie. It’s rushed, scatterbrained, and oh-so-lowbrow, but the banter between the actors is mostly friendly, good-natured stuff, where it really seems as though the film was just an excuse for Vaughn and Favreau to get some of their comedian buddies together and go on an actual vacation in Tahiti, turn on some cameras, and do some improv. It looks like they’re having fun, and, embarrassingly for me, it’s a little contagious. Maybe it could have been a more significant, thoughtful, or intelligent comedy if there were seven or eight less main characters, but who wants to see any of those things, anyway?

One of those awesome shots where people are talking, so they look like they all suffer from mental illness of some sort. Also, note Favreau's massive rack

One of those awesome shots where people are talking, so they look like they all suffer from mental illness of some sort. Also, note Favreau's massive rack

So the theory is upheld: TMMCSMS disallows any sort of quality of product. It just doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have a decent time zoning out and watching the many stars of “Retreat” loaf around and enjoy themselves.

(One note of interest about “Retreat”: it was directed by Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” If that fact alone makes you want to see it, you should probably go get a CAT scan.)

Rating: Two and a Half Stars out of Five

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Posted by: znewkirk | October 7, 2009

Review: Zombieland

2009 | Director: Ruben Fleischer | Writers: Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (created TV’s “The Joe Schmo Show” and produced “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here!”)

zombieland 2

Other, less accurate reviews for “Zombieland” will lead you to believe that the horror-comedy is One of the Year’s Best, a Laugh Riot, or perhaps even a Scare-Fest with Heart; but don’t believe the hype. Not to say that the movie, the brainchild of reality TV gurus Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, isn’t passable; on the contrary, “Zombieland” is above average across the board. But simply “above average” feels like some sort of failure in this case, considering the media buildup and previous critical success of superior films in the same genre (Edgar Wright‘s “Shaun of the Dead,” for one).

Jesse Eisenberg (“The Education of Charlie Banks”) plays a lonely young man nicknamed Columbus, whose post-zombie-apocalypse world revolves around following a stringent set of rules–such as “limber up” and “don’t be a hero”–that have kept him alive thus far. He soon comes across gun-happy, twinkie-obsessed traveler, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, “EDtv”), who agrees to give him a lift across the corpse-strewn wasteland of middle America–that is, until the two are waylaid by a conniving sister act, made up of Wichita (Emma Stone, “Superbad”) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”), and roped into heading toward the supposed last zombie-free area in the states: Pacific Playland, a beloved amusement park of yore. Naturally, the four very-different survivors butt heads, but they also crack a lot of heads–zombie heads! LOL.

zombieland

Being, as I mentioned, above average in all aspects, “Zombieland” is a semi-disappointing “good” film, in that it’s decently funny, but not uproariously so; moderately stylish, though, more often than not, in a grating manner; sort of gory, though not in a style befitting any zombie film, comedy or otherwise, with nary a scare in sight. Eisenberg is this generation’s Michael Cera–provided the last generation started having kids at the age of nine–and his stammering, nebbish rule-follower is a fairly strong character here, matched up especially well with a perfectly-cast Harrelson, whose dumb, violent zombie-hunter’s arc is the only one tinged with pathos. Unfortunately this means that aside from those scant instances where his human depth is explored, “Zombieland” serves as a mere joke delivery service spruced up with 3D titles and nervous narration.

zombieland 3

The film’s strongest moments play out in a second act detour with a sizeable celebrity cameo; in these scenes a certain type of deadpan (if you’ll pardon the pun), intelligent humor plays out winningly, but it only serves to deaden (if you’ll pardon the pun) the rest of the film’s visually-focused comedy by comparison. In a year so far devoid of truly funny films, “Zombieland” definitely stands out as a unique, entertaining highlight, but that may say more about a failing in the movie industry than it does about this movie’s marginal success.

Rating: Three of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | September 30, 2009

Review: Surrogates

2009 | Director: Jonathan Mostow (“Breakdown,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”) | Writers: John Brancato and Michael Ferris (“The Net”)

"Surprise!"

"Surprise!"

“Surrogates,” or “I, Robot 2: Way Worse Than I, Robot,” shares the distinctly plastic, non-threatening look of 2004’s Will Smith yawn-factory, but it also takes a turn South from that low common denominator to focus exclusively on humans themselves as humanity’s big enemy, instead of that much more frightening specter of evil, soulless machines. What’s that you say? The machines in “I, Robot” weren’t menacing in the least? Well then, you’ll find the lame ideas behind “Surrogates” even less frightening. You might even forget what you came to watch when you wake up during the end credits.

I did this during the movie as well, except I was unconscious

I did this during the movie as well, except I was unconscious

Little-known character actor Bruce Willis (“Moonlighting”) stars as FBI agent Tom Greer, a future-man with hideous, limp blond hair draped across his glistening forehead–only he’s not a man; he’s a Surrogate, or “Surry,” a robot replica of Greer being controlled by the real man back at home base. In the film’s world of 2017, everyone uses creepy-looking Surries to live their daily lives safely and anonymously, making harsh crimes like rape and murder things of the pre-robot-body past. While the real Greer slumps around his house, bumping into his distant wife every so often in between visits to his dead son’s empty bedroom, his Surry is out dragging its rubbery complexion and hideous, limp blond hair to crime scenes, such as that which drives the film’s ever-so-tedious plot: two Surrogates have been whacked in an alley–not an uncommon occurrence, apparently–but their users, the real humans back in their homes, were also killed in the process–an unprecedented event in such a peaceful world. Who’s trying to kill all Surry-using humans, and for the love of Pete, why? I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll tell you one thing about the mystery’s answer: it sucks really bad.

The offending party, top left

The offending party, top left

“Surrogates” feels like an ill-planned event all around–aside from the woefully uninterested acting from the hideous-limp-blond-hair-wearing Willis, Radha Mitchell, and Irving “Ving” Rhames (“Surrogates”), the film features some of the dullest direction ever crapped out on celluloid, thanks to helmer Jonathan Mostow (“Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers”) and a miserable script from John Brancato and Michael Ferris (“Catwoman”)–but seriously, what’s with Bruce Willis’ hair? A bald actor can choose any wig he wants for a film, so why pick something that looks like a urine-soaked doily? In a way, the wig on center stage in “Surrogates” is emblematic of its problems: it’s hideous, it’s limp, and it’s blond. I’m still working on why that last part is important, but trust me when I insist that it’s not worth finding out.

Rating: One of Five Stars

Posted by: ianstrope | September 23, 2009

Review: Visioneers

2008 | Director: Jared Drake | Writer: Brandon Drake

What do you get when you combine the pseudo-surrealism and manic-depressive existential breakdown found in movies commonly attributed to the writer Charlie Kaufman with the Kafkaesque distopia of, say, Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil?” You get “Visioneers,” which at times feels like a feature length sketch from the TV show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!”. To be clear, most of this stuff is cool. Unfortunately in Visioneers it becomes tedious, self indulgent and overly contrived. Instead of sticking to quirky, eye-rolling humor that makes up the bread and butter of these Hipster Comedies, this alternate-reality tale has the smugness factor a little too high.

Visioneers

Zack Galifianakis (“Gravy Robbers,” “The Hangover”) plays George Washington blah blah (you get his whole name many times because I guess it’s funny…meh) a member of the upper/middle class corporate consumer culture that this film is satirizing (I guess that’s it). He has a job where he does the whole sit-in-a-room thing with quiet desperation, examining forms and the like. He pushes papers for the Jeffers Corporation, which, you quickly learn, has gained pretty much total control over the non-rural or developed areas of the United States. As is often the case in these HipComs, George has a vacant wife played by Judy Greer (Fatty Mcgoo, “13 going on 30”) and lives a life of great material wealth (ranch house, boat, mini-van, etc). Also, in keeping with the HipCom formula, George has one true source of happiness in his life in the form of a coworker he only talks to on the phone. Her name is Charisma (yeah, okay…yeah), played by Mia Maestro (“Alias”, “Poseidon”), and quite frankly she might be one of the most beautiful women alive. That aside, she is eventually fired for being unproductive and so eventually (lots of eventually in this movie; like I said, it’s tedious) George goes off and finds her working at a diner in the undeveloped area. Will romance ensue? Not if this is the real world, which it’s not.

There is some other stuff with his brother returning from a midlife crisis and taking up pole-vaulting while inadvertently creating a hippie following that he hates. And a life coach and some stuff about how dreams are dangerous, simply because in this alternate reality people will explode. Literally, they explode from being too disappointed by their lives and overcome with stress and anxiety about not being able to do something about it or something. Some of these scenes of character interaction are good and even the hokey premise of exploding people could be fun, but the execution of this movie is lacking; it feels too heavy handed with the satire and at the same time too in love with its own quirkiness, only to give it all up for an ending that is incredulous (even for this movie) and far less penetrating and deep than it should have been–if this is satire.

visioneers 2

I like this kind of thing sometimes. I liked some parts of this movie and found that Galifianakis was pretty good, though he did not have to display much more range than that of a morose mother-fellow. It was just too loose and too clever and too sardonic to match the quality of the final product, or the meandering story, which lead to an ineffective ending, which killed the potency of the satire.

Rating: Two and a Half of Five Stars

 

Posted by: ianstrope | September 15, 2009

Review: Adventureland

2009 | Director and Writer: Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “The Daytrippers”)

I will not apologize for enjoying the Hip-Rom-Coms of Kevin Smith, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, or even some of the Apatowesque stuff. Sometimes you want to watch an mumbling idiot that seems like you and or your friends get with some girl whom he has no business getting with in the real world and, I don’t know, having an adventure. It’s escapism at its most juvenile (or maybe sophomoric) but whatever.

adventureland

When I first saw a trailer for this movie it looked just like that kind of thing. Set in 1987 I figured I’d like the soundtrack and some of the 80’s humor.

So what’s really the meat and potatoes of “Adventureland?” A recent graduate, Jessie Eisenberg (“The Squid and the Whale”), ready to go off to Columbia in the Fall to study journalism and become some kind of  romantic Dickensian travel log writer, finds all his hopes for a blissful European vacation dashed when his dad gets demoted. As such he needs to take up a crappy Summer job at the local Pittsburgh theme park, the titular Adventureland.

Quickly he makes friends with a monotone geek, Marin Starr (“Freaks and Geeks”) who manages to steal most of the scenes he is in, providing some humor in the form of that patented hip-com acerbic wit. The graduate also finds that both the park’s cute girl, Kristen Stewart (“Into the Wild”), and its hot girl seem to inexplicably be interested in spending time with him.

adventureland1

As the movie goes, on romantic dramedy ensues, and it is all pretty standard soap opera stuff for the most. I’d be fine with this if there was just more laughs, but unfortunately “Adventureland” is too meandering to bring the funny. I would say it was being self-indulgent in the forced way the bland lead gets with pretty girls and messes around getting stoned, reasonably free of consequences, but that would only make sense if there was more of an auteur behind the production. Instead it is just typical romanticizing of that all-too-terrible life of the suburbanite white-kid-in-his-20s who has high class problems.

Maybe I wanted too much from this movie. Maybe I wanted a romance that was more authentic, where the guy had to do more to earn the affections of the girl, or where the characters–most of whom are set up as if they will need to go through some adjustment during the story (the dad’s becoming a drunk , the girl has issues with her new step mom , the funny sidekick is utterly miserable in his “pragmatic nihilism”)–actually change. But all of this good stuff that can be both effectively dramatic and funny is abandoned so they can smoke weed and make out and talk about Lou Reed. I know those are the real potatoes of the Hip-Rom-Com but this movie hinted at meat and didn’t really deliver. For a cinematic carnivore like myself, that can lead to little more than disappointment.

Rating: Two and a Half of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | September 11, 2009

Review: Gamer

2009 | Directors and Writers: Neveldine/Taylor

The American family of the future

The American family of the future

Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s envelope-pushing “Crank” and its envelope-shredding sequel “Crank: High Voltage” were a couple of shots of delicious steroids in the action genre’s atrophic arm—movies that didn’t so much defy conventions as they did completely ignore them, and in such an over-the-top fashion that even their ugliest and most morally-reprehensible moments could be seen as deconstructionist farce, even if they weren’t meant that way. The “Crank” films were also refreshingly message-free, making every odd moment a comment on filmmaking tropes themselves instead of an illustration of some trite truism.

But the directors’ follow-up, the ill-designed “Gamer,” reveals much of that frenetic technique as a façade for the story-challenged team. The plot, which dovetails off into multiple dead ends and dull warnings about technology, sears its way uncomfortably through the film’s stylish veneer, throwing brooding Scot Gerard Butler into service as Kable, a future-man in prison for murder, and the unwilling star of a Running Man-esque TV show called “Slayers,” in which cons must live through thirty rounds of real-life warfare for freedom. It’s a simple and familiar premise, with enough arterial spray and off-the-wall obscenity to appeal to misguided teenage ticket buyers across the land, but can what worked so perfectly for the “Crank” movies do the same for a joyless, oppressively-filmed version with a tacked-on moral?

Butler subtly threatens Hall

Butler subtly threatens Hall

The complications are many: the technology of “Slayers,” as well as its sexually-exploitative precursor “Society,” has its root in questionable nano-development created by goofy-evil trillionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall, TV’s “Dexter”)—technology that allows someone else to control the living body of their “icon.” In this case, that user is 17-year-old Simon (Logan Lerman, “3:10 to Yuma”), who has controlled Kable to 27 victories—an unprecedented number—by the time “Gamer” opens. But Kable wants out, because his wife and daughter are out in the free world somewhere, and because an underground group of tech radicals led by Ludacris want his help, and because Cable and his free-will-erasing invention should probably be stopped, and because of a bunch of other stuff too. Far, far too much other stuff, in fact.

gamer 2

Gamer has too many problems to hash out (how exactly are we to believe that Kable is such a hard case if Simon has been controlling him the whole time?), but the greatest of these is that the movie tries to say something, however muddled, about the meaning of freedom and the fearful future of technology—a thesis overwhelmed by questionable moments of poorly-intended humor and a leading man way too empathetic and caring to be placed amidst such intermittently absurd action. Indeed, many of the movie’s side characters—such as a ring-eyed Milo Ventimiglia (“Heroes”) as a “Society” character named Rick Rape, and a gigantic, latently homoerotic murderer called Hackman (Terry Crews, “Idiocracy”)—feel like leftovers from “Crank: High Voltage,” a film in which they would have fit nicely; in “Gamer,” they’re just two of many square pegs being hammered fruitlessly into the movie’s round holes.

Rating: Two of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | August 21, 2009

Review: District 9

2009 | Director: Neill Blomkamp | Writers: Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

district 9

The buildup within the internet-based science fiction community for “District 9” was immense, mostly stemming from first-time director Neill Blomkamp’s previous involvement with an aborted “Halo” adaptation, but in spite of the anticipation from sci-fi enthusiasts—or perhaps because of it—the effect for me was one of apprehension. I felt myself really wanting to like the film, which is usually the first sign that I’m setting myself up for disappointment. Happily, that didn’t happen, though for different reasons than expected.

The film begins with documentary-style footage (which all but disappears in the second half) detailing how aliens appeared 20 years prior in a massive, drifting ship above Johannesburg, South Africa, and how, after failed attempts to integrate the beings—all leaderless workers derisively called “Prawns”—into society, they were forced into the titular corporation-run refugee camp, where their growing numbers presented a massive strain on the already-tempestuous post-apartheid society.

district 9 2

In present day, company pen-pusher Wikus van der Merwe (effective rookie actor Sharlto Copley) is promoted to lead a paramilitary force in camp evictions, and in the process, exposes himself to alien technology that inadvertently mutates human tissue. The very anti-Prawn Wikus finds himself torn between his mistrust of the aliens and his frantic search for a cure, aided by a Prawn who thinks he’s found a way to free his people from the inhumanity (inhumalienity?) of the Joburg slums. Meanwhile, the heartless, greedy corporation sends its heavily-armed muscle out to retrieve Wikus for their experiments in genetics and weaponry.

Strangely, I was slightly let down by the movie’s sci-fi aspect, which manifests itself in a largely slow first half bogged down further by interview segments. The Kafka-esque effects of Wikus’ transformation are eerily gripping, especially as his psyche begins to crack, but the specifics about the process are conspicuously absent, leaving that storyline a contrivance among many. How long did it take the humans to learn the alien language? What happened to the missing Prawn leadership? Blomkamp intentionally leaves these and other facts hazy, further clouding his thesis, especially considering the refugee camp setting.

district 9 3

Any lingering questions about the director’s thematic intentions, however, are thoroughly buried when the bullets start to fly. The slum warfare present in “District 9” is beyond impressive, particularly when Blomkamp cuts between frenetic, duck-when-they-shoot handheld views and perfectly-composed wide shots detailing completely awesome feats of technological butt-kickery. It is in these moments where Blomkamp’s story comes together, illustrated through Wikus’ growing rage rather than any trite “aliens-as-aliens” allegory. Though ostensibly a political statement about how greed changes a person, “District 9” is most effective as a revenge fantasy where a newly-put-upon man fights back in lieu of those who can’t. Blomkamp definitely has his best work ahead of him, but a debut this entertaining, if uneven, is one heck of a way to start a career.

Rating: Three and a Half of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | August 19, 2009

How the Ratings Work

It’s been a long time coming, but here’s exactly how my own ratings–and by extension, any of this site’s writer’s ratings–work, starting with rule 1:

1) If I like the movie, it gets a good rating.

Rule 1 also happens to be the only rule. Of course, how much the writer likes the movie goes into exactly how positive or negative the number is. No movies are rated against each other; each film should be judged on its own merit, or lack thereof. A bad score doesn’t mean the movie is “bad.” It simply means one of us didn’t like it.

Our use of quasi-scholarly language should in no way reflect upon the film in question–it should only reflect poorly on us for not being able to write in any other manner.

Additionally, no review or rating will ever, ever reflect upon a movie’s box office totals. As noted sack of crap H.L. Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” The only issue in question should be if our own broke, unintelligent review of something jives with your own estimation of that film, and not whether our tastes or opinions coincide with that of the greater American filmgoing populace.

Posted by: znewkirk | August 16, 2009

Review: A Perfect Getaway

2009 | Director and Writer: David Twohy (“The Arrival,” writer on “Waterworld,” “The Fugitive”)

Jovovich inquires as to the availability of a multipass

Jovovich inquires as to the availability of a multipass

The Big Twist, the shocking revelation that turns the plot on its head, becomes, for better or worse, the defining moment many horror or thriller films. Whether that twist is essential to the story itself or merely to the telling of that story, however, is what truly seems to matter in movies like “The Crying Game” or “The Sixth Sense.” David Twohy’s satisfying “A Perfect Getaway” takes the storytelling approach—usually the lesser of the twist’s uses—but turns that twist into the story itself, making “Getaway” the rare thriller in which every shot, every word in every line of dialogue, references itself for the betterment of the viewing experience.

“Getaway” stars Steve Zahn (“Saving Silverman”) and Milla Jovavich (“The Fifth Element”) as screenwriter Cliff and his bride Cydney, honeymooners vacationing on Kauai in the Kalalau Valley. When they learn from other hikers that another honeymooning couple were recently murdered on Oahu, they begin to nervously suspect everyone around them, from a grizzled, creepy hitchhiking couple played by Chris Hemsworth (“Star Trek”) and Marley Shelton (“Bubble Boy”) to the much friendlier, equally-creepy couple Nick, an ex-Special Forces op with peculiar interest in Cliff’s profession (played by standout Timothy Olyphant, “The Girl Next Door”), and his Southern girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez, “Lost”).

daylit locations do little to dimish the suspense

daylit locations do little to dimish the suspense

Director and writer Twohy (“Pitch Black,” “The Chronicles of Riddick”) makes all the right moves here, stretching the opening scenes’ tension—set amidst gorgeous locales—to palpable lengths before dropping the hammer in an explosive, visually-striking third act. It’s all done in service to the twist, of course, with every red herring spelled out for the viewer, and every glowering, askew glance meant to lead the eye to a dead end. The performances in “Getaway” are particularly serviceable, and especially those from Zahn and Olyphant as vastly different men whose never-ending discussion of screenwriting techniques acts as both a visible blueprint and a bold slight-of-hand trick.

Most twists are rightly decried as fluff meant to disguise a film’s pointlessness, and indeed, “Getaway” says little about Health Care, Darfur, or the healing Power of Love; however, it’s a heck of an examination of man’s sick propensity for deception, and a more-than-entertaining exercise in a movie’s power to shock, awe, and manipulate its audience.

Rating: Four of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | August 15, 2009

Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

2009 | Director: Stephen Sommers (“The Jungle Book,” “Deep Rising”) | Writers: Stuart Beattie (“Collateral,” “Australia”), David Elliot, and Paul Lovett

The cast makes their way to the Oscars

The cast make their way to the Oscars

As the second Hasbro franchise to take flight this summer, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” should be at least as good as either of the “Transformers” films; after all, one product concerns itself with the plights of two opposing fighting forces made up of relatable, flesh-and-blood humans, while the other is about alien robots who turn into dump trucks and punch each other. But instead of leveling the toy-based playing field, the unbelievably terrible “Joe” reminds one more of 1994’s miserable “Street Fighter,” which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme as a man trying to commit career suicide by acting in “Street Fighter.” I can say without exaggeration that I’d rather watch that ridiculous film than “Joe,” though it pains me to denounce the remnants of my childhood in such a way.

The movie breaks down like this: Channing “The Worst Actor in the World” Tatum plays Duke, a Special Forces dude who, along with friend Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, “Little Man”), gets caught up in the thick of things when weapons made of neon green nanotechnology are saved from the clutches of the Baroness (renowned strumpet Sienna Miller) by the secretive NATO force G.I. Joe, made up of gunner Heavy-Duty, hot chick Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), electronics expert Breaker, mute ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park), plenty of killable extras, and led by terse, three-word-phrase-barking General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Duke’s all, “Sign me up for this secret army, Bro!” and Hawk’s like, “No! Well, OK.”

The Baroness turns out to be working for double-crossing weapons dealer James McCullen, whose second-in-command “The Doctor” (a seriously slumming Joseph Gordon-Levitt) may or may not secretly be planning to become Cobra Commander and double-cross McCullen, aka Destro. Also, fan favorite Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) is along for the ride so that there can be an evil Asian ninja to fight against Snake Eyes’ good white ninja. Also, The Baroness may have strong enough feelings for former flame Duke to want to double-cross Destro. Also, stuff about the nano-weapons…Cyborg suits…Kissing…Sword-fights…Zzzz…

Race war! Race war!

Race war! Race war!

The acting in “Joe” is circus-grade, and director Stephen Sommers (“Van Helsing”) probably huffed tons of glue while shooting. But they’re currently roping off the biggest part of Movie Heck for the studio execs who greenlit this malfeasance against mankind. Yes, this may very well be an adequate G.I. Joe adaptation for hardcore fans—catchphrases and tips of the hat abound, down to the super-secret under-the-ocean base Cobra calls home—but hardcore fans aren’t the general moviegoing public, so why foist “Joe” upon everyone else? Besides, for every wink to knowing viewers, the film bastardizes two more hallowed characters’ back-stories. Now second-generation G.I. Joe fans will grow up thinking that mortal enemies Duke and Cobra Commander started out as boot camp roommates.

The totally rad new Cobra Commander mask that's supposed to be a secret until the end of the movie, if only they hadn't released its image on the action figures that dropped three months ago

The totally rad new Cobra Commander mask that's supposed to be a secret until the end of the movie, if only they hadn't released its image on the action figures that dropped three months ago

Admittedly, the whole reason “Joe” exists is to sell toys, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for a film this bad. Making something better wouldn’t have been hard, with a vast world and interesting characters created by the franchise’s cartoon series and comic books at the writers’ disposal; though it might have alienated some of the more fervent followers, weren’t the filmmakers duty-bound to create and display the best product they could? That magical G.I. Joe movie, sadly, exists only as a pipe dream, leaving this “Joe” as cold as a corpse, riddled with holes in the shape of dollar signs. As a bit of G.I. Joe media it’s passable kitsch, with names and tone intact, but as a movie it’s artless, dangerously stupid, and an utter disappointment.

Rating: One and a Half of Five Stars

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