Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace


The Jedi are more badass than you can imagine.

The Jedi are more badass than you can imagine.

(1999) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Pernilla August, Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Terence Stamp, Ray Park, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Blessed (voice), Lewis Macleod (voice), Sofia Coppola, Keira Knightley. Directed by George Lucas

 

sci-fi-spectacle

The Star Wars franchise has been a cultural touchstone for many since the film series debuted in 1977 and remains a beloved cinematic collection for most. However, none of the films in the series has been reviled by its fanbase as much as this one.

It starts with a breakdown in negotiations between the Republic and the Trade Federation (think Ferengi) to end a blockade around the planet Naboo, resulting in an assassination attempt on Jedi Knight negotiators Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor). The Trade Federation ends up invading Naboo and the two Jedi, aided by a Gungan (one of two sentient species on the planet) named Jar-Jar Binks (Best) rescue Queen Amidala (Portman) and flee the planet in her starship, sustaining damage and forcing them to land on a faraway desert planet with their hyper drive out of commission.

The desert planet they are stranded on ends up being Tatooine where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Lloyd), a young boy who was born a slave and lives with his mother (August). Jinn notices that the boy is incredibly strong in the force; so much so that he has the potential to become the most powerful Jedi in history. As most fans know, what he actually ends up being is Darth Vader. They enter the precocious boy in a violent and dangerous pod race to not only get the parts they need to repair their ship but to win the boy’s freedom as well.

The Jedi bring back their findings to the Jedi counsel, led by Master Yoda (Oz) and Master Mace Windu (Jackson), along with the boy whom Qui-Gon puts forward for training. Yoda and Windu, both concerned about the boy’s susceptibility to the dark side, turn down the request so of course Qui-Gon decides to train Anakin himself. In the meantime, things on Naboo are coming to a crucial point and Amidala, frustrated that the Galactic Senate is too corrupt to act, returns to Naboo to lead her people in a struggle against their oppressors. That corruption is being fanned by Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord who is orchestrating these events with an eye to eventually cause the Republic to crumble and install an empire with a Sith Lord at its head.

The effects for the film were in 1999 absolutely breathtaking. Lucas and his technical crew created a number of wildly different environments, from the undersea world of the Gungan people to the Venice-like capital city of Naboo to the desert world of Tatooine to the massive skyscrapers of Coruscant, the capital of the Republic. Each of the environments is distinct and realistic and paved the way for the computer generated worlds that we take for granted today in modern blockbusters.

The Star Wars series has never been noted for its character development and for the most part there is almost none here. Yes, familiar faces are around in the film which takes place more than 30 years before the original, including Yoda and droids R2D2 (Baker) and C-3PO (Daniels) the latter of which is essentially a skeletal frame of a droid that Anakin is building. We kind of know who they are because we’ve grown up with them and it is pleasing to see some of their backstory.

Unfortunately, Lucas wanted to make the movie more family-friendly which was a wild misstep. Binks has become something of a symbol and for all the wrong reasons; he is so hated by the fanbase of the films that his role was greatly reduced in the following two films of the trilogy – who can forget the rap parody starring Binks “Me-ssa So Horny”? The character was meant to be comic relief but ended up being a tremendous irritant.

I don’t like criticizing child actors because they aren’t equipped to deal with the criticism as well as their adult counterparts so I’ll criticize Lucas instead – putting Jake Lloyd in the role of Anakin, a role that was so super critical to the film was absolutely irresponsible. Not only does Lloyd not have the acting ability to handle it, his flat line reading and irritating demeanor stop the film dead in its tracks. Lucas should never have put a kid – any kid – under so much pressure. Lloyd did the best he could under the circumstances but I’m not sure anyone could have handled the scrutiny that Lloyd was under. As much as I sympathize with the youngster, there is no getting away that his performance is detrimental to the film overall.

There are a lot of good things about the film – the duel between Qui-Gon and Sith warrior Darth Maul (Park) is absolutely spectacular, one of the best in cinematic history. Still, this has to rank among the most disappointing films ever. The anticipation for a new Star Wars film was so great that almost nothing could have lived up to the expectations of the fans, but this was so far below the bar that the series had nowhere to go but up, but it would take 16 years before fans got the satisfying sequel they were looking for.

WHY RENT THIS: Seeing Yoda fight is a completely badass experience. Neeson lends some much-needed gravitas. Park very nearly steals the movie.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jake Lloyd is absolutely wooden. Jar Jar Binks is an abomination. The whole thing is entirely too dumbed down.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of action and violence of a sci-fi nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Keira Knightley’s first name was misspelled as “Kiera” in the credits.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a series of a dozen documentaries produced for the film’s website; some of the footage from these docs appear in the main “making-of” featurette. There are also plenty of stills and animatics from the pre-production as well as a featurette on the making of the videogame based on the movie.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD only), Amazon (purchase only), iTunes, Google Play (purchase only), Fandango Now (purchase only)
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.027B on a $115M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Matrix Revolutions
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle concludes!

New Releases for the Week of April 4, 2014


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones.. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Trying to adjust to the modern world, Cap soon finds himself embroiled in a global conspiracy that reaches into the very deepest levels of government – and SHIELD – itself. Allied with the Black Widow and his new friend the Falcon, Cap will face a formidable and lethal foe in a man both familiar and mysterious – the Winter Soldier.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos, videos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout)

Frankie and Alice

(CODEBLACK) Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgard, Phylicia Rashad, Matt Frewer. In Los Angeles in the 1970s, an African-American go-go dancer named Frankie struggles with multiple personalities, including a seven-year-old child and a white racist named Alice. Seeking help from a psychotherapist, she learns to master and control her personalities and eventually discover the demons that brought them out in the first place. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Psychological Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Jinn

(Freestyle Releasing) Dominic Rains, Serinda Swan, Ray Park, William Atherton.In the beginning there were three races in creation – men made of clay, angels made of light and Jinn made of fire. Over the centuries, the Jinn have all but disappeared from memory, relegated to myth and fairy tale. Now they are back – and they want the world.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and terror)

Main Tera Hero

(Balaji) Varun Dhawan, Nargis Fakhri, Ileana D’Cruz, Evelyn Sharma. On an Indian college campus, a young ladies man falls hard for a beautiful young coed. When he discovers that a relationship isn’t possible, it only makes him more determined.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR 

X-Men


Wolverine makes sure everyone in the bar gets the point.

Wolverine makes sure everyone in the bar gets the point.

(2000) Superhero (20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davison, Matthew Sharp, Brett Morris, Shawn Ashmore, Sumela Kay, Katrina Florece, Alexander Burton, Kenneth McGregor, Rhona Shekter, Stan Lee. Directed by Bryan Singer

One of the most eagerly anticipated movies maybe of all time this one, and it had all the ingredients necessary for a monster smash hit; comic-book action, eye candy, a respected director, attractive actors, even a few Names. So is it any good?

Certainly, the movie has a rich storyline to draw from, one over 40 years in the making. There are some differences (a few of them fairly major) from the comic book mythos, but director Singer remained true to the comic’s essential storyline. That’s as well he should, as it is one of the most complex and interesting in comics.

It starts with a concentration camp in Poland, where a young Jewish boy named Eric Lensherr (Morris) is being torn from his parents. The hysterical boy manifests a terrifying power, but it is not enough to save his mother (Shekter) and father (McGregor) from their fates.

Flash-forward to the near future. Mutant children with strange and sometimes deadly powers are manifesting themselves all over the globe. Senator Kelly (Davison) is leading a crusade based on anti-mutant hysteria. Kelly wants these mutants to register themselves as you might register a handgun. Eventually, the senator means to see every mutant locked away in an effort to keep society safe from these potentially dangerous mutants.

Reasonable voices, such as that of respect geneticist Dr. Jean Grey (Janssen) are being shouted down by the hysterics. In the background, the young concentration camp survivor – now an immensely powerful man who can control magnetic fields at whim and who calls himself Magneto (McKellen),  broods and plots. His close friend, the charismatic and immensely powerful psychic Charles Xavier (Stewart), plots and hopes.

Meanwhile in northern Alberta a lonely, frightened teen calling herself Rogue (Paquin) hooks up with a surly, curmudgeonly loner named Wolverine (Jackman). Turns out Wolverine has an incredible regenerative power – he can take a great deal of punishment and heal at an astonishingly rapid rate. With a skeleton laced with a diamond-hard alloy called adamantium and claws of the same material that can shoot out from his knuckles and slice through virtually anything, he can dish it out, too.

The two are attacked in the Canadian wilderness by a lion-like creature called Sabretooth (Mane) but are rescued at the last minute by a strikingly beautiful woman of coffee-colored skin and ivory, silken hair who generates her own weather patterns; she is Ororo Munro, also known as Storm (Berry). With her is a boy-next-door type named Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops (Marsden) who can generate devastating force beams from his eyes. The two take Wolverine and Rogue back to Xavier’s School for Gifted Children, a place where mutant youngsters can learn to control and refine their powers, as well as gain an education in an almost normalized environment.

They are also gearing up for a fight. You see, Sabretooth is one of a crew that works for Magneto that also includes the agile Toad (Park) whose tongue would make Gene Simmons green with envy, and the alluring, shape-shifting Mystique (Romijn-Stamos) whose normal appearance has her with a strange blue skin. Magneto believes that a war between normals and mutants is coming, and that natural selection favors the mutants, but sheer numbers favor homo sapiens, who will kill off all mutants in order to survive.

Xavier believes that humans deserve to survive but that mutants can be integrated into society. He has assembled a group of X-Men to protect humanity and show them that the two species can work together in harmony. Magneto, however, has plans to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s leaders and he needs a powerful mutant to make that happen – and it isn’t Wolverine.

There is a lot more depth to this movie than the average summer action flick. It examines our tendencies to distrust and be fearful of those different from us — skin tones, religion, sexual orientation, whatever. These “mutants” for the most part are no different than the rest of us, externally. What makes them different generally doesn’t manifest except in specific situations which is true of those that society currently does mistrust. “Normal” is really a term subject to broad interpretation, even outside the comic books.

The eye candy is impressive, but it isn’t what this movie is about. A lot of kudos must go to the casting director; nearly every role is perfectly cast, particularly Stewart and Jackman, who physically resemble their four-color counterparts. The script is well-written and thought provoking but never lacking in the action that summer moviegoers crave. The character who are developed are believable.

The trouble is, you would need a 30-hour miniseries to properly develop all of the characters here, so many get short shrift, particularly Storm who deserves more screen time and more background. Also, if you aren’t familiar with the comic as Da Queen is not much of the details are going to go sailing right over your head. You may want to have a 12-year-old boy with you to explain it.

Hugh Jackman ascended to immediate stardom with his performance here. His Wolverine is at the center of the movie, and Jackman carries it effortlessly. Stewart’s Xavier is not that dissimilar to Captain Picard, from Star Trek: The Next Generation but that’s just fine; the role calls for the kind of commanding presence and compassion that Stewart invested Picard with. McKellen is astonishingly compelling, as much victim as villain. One can’t help but sympathize with him even as he’s doing horrible things – the mark of a great movie villain. Not every actor out there could bring those qualities – which were always evident in the comic book version – to life.

It isn’t exaggeration to say that the success of this movie opened the floodgates for Marvel to re-define the superhero movie and become the industry force that they have become. The X-Men franchise has continued to flourish with two off-shoots starring Jackman as Wolverine and three other feature films and a fourth scheduled for release in May and a fifth already on the schedule for 2016. If a movie can be this entertaining and at the same time promote tolerance, I’m definitely on board for the series continuing indefinitely.

WHY RENT THIS: Compelling story used to address issues of intolerance and prejudice. Some nice performances, particularly from Jackman, Stewart, McKellen and Berry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too cerebral for those who like their comic book action non-stop. Some purists might complain about deviation from comic book canon.

FAMILY MATTERS: As is necessary for most comic book adaptations, there is a surfeit of action and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jackman started his tradition of beginning his day with ice cold showers whenever he is playing the role of Wolverine on this film. He had jumped into the shower at 5 AM, not realizing that there was no hot water. Not wanting to wake up his wife, he just tolerated and had an epiphany that this was what Wolverine felt all the time – wanting to lash out and forced to hold it all in. He uses these cold showers to get into character and has for every film featuring Wolverine.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The original DVD release had a wealth of features including an Easter Egg scene involving a well-known Marvel superhero who doesn’t appear in the film (but would later get a franchise of his own), a Fox-TV special called The Mutant Watch that is centered around the Senate hearings on Mutant Affairs, an interview with Singer by Charlie Rose and Jackman’s screen test. There was also a method of integrating deleted scenes into the place in the film where they would have been by means of hitting the enter button on your DVD remote whenever an X-Men logo appeared on the bottom right of the screen. A special edition DVD, known as X-Men 1.5 was also released and while it had an entire second disc of special features, most were of the standard production diary sort which were strangely lacking from the initial release. Most of these are also available on the Blu-Ray edition released in 2009.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $296.3M on a $75M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marvel’s The Avengers

 

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Phantom

G.I. Joe: Retaliation


OK, Snake Eyes looks really cool, I'll give you that.

OK, Snake Eyes looks really cool, I’ll give you that.

(2013) Action (Paramount) Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce, Byung-hun Lee, Elodie Yung, Ray Stevenson, D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Luke Bracey, Walton Goggins, Arnold Vosloo, Joseph Mazzello, RZA, James Carville, Bruce Willis, Joe Chrest, Tiffany Lonsdale. Directed by Jon M. Chu

When you make a movie about an action figure, the basic problem is that action figures are made of plastic and have no real personality. Movies that stick too close to the canon can sometimes run the risk of following suit.

The Joes – America’s elite fighting force, commanded by Duke (Tatum) and his sidekick Roadblock (Johnson) have infiltrated North Korea and are now heading for sunny Pakistan to secure their nuclear arsenal after their President was assassinated. Unfortunately, the person they should have been worrying about was our President (Pryce) who has been kidnapped and replaced by Zartan (Vosloo), one of Cobra Commander’s (Bracey) top henchmen. He has framed the Joes for the deed.

Now reduced to Roadblock, Lady Jaye (Palicki) and Flint (Cotrona), the remaining Joes soon become aware that Cobra Commander – who has been broken out of maximum security prison by rent-a-ninja Storm Shadow (Lee) and the half-crazy Firefly (Stevenson) who likes to use tiny little explosive firefly robots to do his dirty work. Now the United States is the de facto territory of Cobra and he has a nifty little weapon called Zeus – with all the firepower of a nuclear weapon and none of the fallout. Sort of like the “tastes great, less filling” of modern weapons of mass destruction.

They need to figure out a way to foil the nefarious plan of world domination. They’ll need all hands on deck to do it – including the enigmatic Snake Eyes (Park), trainee Jinx (Yung) and the guy who started it all, General Joe Colton (Willis), the original G.I. Joe.

The first movie in the series, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra was considered a misfire. Chu and the studio wanted to take the franchise in another decision – one not so much more gritty than more realistic. The performance-enhancing suits of the first movie are gone and while there are a few gadgets here and there, for the most part this is more stunt-oriented and battle oriented using weapons that are more or less familiar. Sure there are still comic book elements to the movie but then you don’t see an action movie for realistic behavior. There’s a superhuman element to the action hero that is just a teensy bit shy of spandex and a cape.

So is this version better than what they came up with for the first movie? Yes and no. Most of the cast from the first is gone with only Snake Eyes, Duke, Storm Shadow, Zartan and the President returning to the sequel. Adding Johnson is usually a big plus but for once his larger-than-life charisma is pretty much absent which is surprising and disappointing. I don’t know if he was just going through the motions on purpose but it sure seemed to me like he was. In either case this was one of the least successful performances of his career which is bad news since he’s expected to carry the film on his broad shoulders. In his defense, he isn’t given a whole lot to work with.

Also in his defense, the rest of the cast isn’t much better with the exception of Willis, who is nicely understated as Joe and Park, who is completely mute as Snake Eyes. Most of the rest is chest-thumping posturing with a loud rock soundtrack which really was already dated in the 80s when the heyday for chest-thumping action films was.

Even in that situation a movie like this can be saved with eye-popping special effects and/or jaw-dropping stunts. While the effects and stunts are more than adequate, they aren’t quite spectacular enough to overcome the film’s deficiencies.

REASONS TO GO: The Rock is charming as always. Some great martial arts scenes.

REASONS TO STAY: No character development AT ALL. Uninspiring.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s all sorts of violence from martial arts one on ones to battle sequences to gun fights – and a bit of sensuality and mildly bad language too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release on June 29, 2012 but Paramount delayed the film for a year to what they claimed initially was to add 3D effects but later the real reason turned out that they wanted to add more scenes with Tatum in the film as he had become a big star in the meantime and getting him to do reshoots required a long wait.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100; the critics have, as expected, not warmed to the movie.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battleship

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Your Sister’s Sister and the beginning of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!

New Releases for the Week of March 29, 2013


GI Joe Retaliation

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

(DreamWorks) Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrienne Palecki, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, D.J. Cotrona. Directed by John M. Chu

The Joes are decimated by a sneak attack but are shocked to discover that the strike was ordered by their own government – by the President, in fact. It becomes clear that the government has been infiltrated by Cobra, their arch-nemesis and at the highest levels. In order to survive and stop Cora from his evil plan they’ll have to call on some extra help – the man who started it all, G.I. Joe.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language)

The Host

(Open Road) Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Diane Kruger, William Hurt. The Earth has been invaded by parasites that take over the human body and erase their memories; the parasites are winning as the free human numbers are dwindling. A brave young girl will risk everything for those she loves and in doing so give hope to the human race that love can indeed conquer all. From the novel by Twilight series creator Stephenie Meyer.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some sensuality and violence)

On the Road

(Sundance Selects) Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams. A young writer’s life turns upside down when he meets a brash Westerner and his girlfriend. The three of them embark on a cross-country road trip to escape a world growing ever more conservative and conformist. Based on the classic Jack Kerouac beat novel.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, drug use and language) 

Tyler Perry’s Temptation

(Lionsgate) Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams. A marriage counselor whose own relationship is rocky decides to be with another man. The repercussions of her choices send a ripple effect from her life to the lives of those around her. Based on Perry’s stage play Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.

See the trailer and a filmed version of the play the film is based on here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sexuality and language) 

New Releases for the Week of February 10, 2012


February 10, 2012

SAFE HOUSE

(Universal) Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Fares Fares, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Ruben Blades. Directed by Daniel Espinosa

One of the most decorated agents in the history of the CIA is Tobin Frost. He is also one of the most reviled, having turned traitor and is now selling his services to the highest bidder. He has cost untold millions of dollars and dozens of lives, directly and otherwise. Then one day he walks into a U.S. consulate. He is taken from there to a CIA Safe House where the House sitter is to take charge of him until he is picked up – and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence throughout and some language)

Journey 2: Mysterious Island

(New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens. In this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, .the annoying nephew now has a new stepdad who reluctantly accompanies him to an island where there shouldn’t be one to find the annoying nephew’s explorer grandfather who had been presumed lost. Yes that’s right – another lost relative in the family. Someone should get this family a cell phone plan.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX

Genre: Family Adventure/Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some adventure action and brief mild language)

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 3D

(20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ray Park.  Because George Lucas needs the cash since he’s retiring.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and violence/disturbing images)

The Vow

(Screen Gems) Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Scott Speedman. A newlywed couple seem to have everything going for them, a perfect life together and a bright future but it all comes to a screeching halt on a rainy night when the car they are in is plowed into by a truck. At least they both survive but the groom discovers that his new wife has lost all of her memory of the past five years – including every memory of him. She believes she is still engaged to the man she was seeing before he came along. Determined to win her back, he pulls out all the stops to get her to fall in love with her all over again. Sound too good to be true? It really happened.

See the trailer and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language)

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra


Sienna Miller has a helicopter to catch.

Sienna Miller has a helicopter to catch.

(Paramount) Channing Tatum, Dennis Quaid, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Byung Hun Lee, Rachel Nichols, Said Taghmaoui, Gregory Fitoussi, Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Stephen Sommers

For the major studios, it’s no longer enough merely to make a movie. There must be merchandise, stuff that will help the bottom line when all is said and done. This is particularly critical for an expensive, big-budget film that the studio is hoping to spin off into a lucrative franchise. It helps when the franchise and merchandise is already built-in.

In the near future, James McCullen (Eccleston), CEO of MARS Industries, an international weapons supplier, has created a brand-new weapon – a missile filled with micro-organisms called nanomites. These little critters consume anything made of metal, and they multiply at an astonishing rate. A single missile can potentially take out an entire city. He has sold four such warheads to NATO, which sends a team led by American warriors Duke (Tatum) and Ripcord (Wayans) to guard the shipment.

The NATO team is attacked by a well-trained, well-armed outfit led by the Baroness (Miller), who apparently once had a romantic relationship with Duke but the two had a falling out after her brother Rex (Gordon-Levitt) – a scientist attached to Duke’s unit – was killed after Duke had sworn to protect him. So here they are, together again in a way, with her soldiers pointing high-tech guns at Duke and Ripcord, the only survivors of the attack. They are rescued, however, by a third team armed with high-tech weapons of their own.

It turns out that this team is a secret military organization comprised of the best of the best, a multi-national force that exists to tackle jobs no one national military can handle. The team is commanded by General Hawk (Quaid) who had asked Duke to join the team four years earlier, but Duke turned it down – no doubt because he was in a funk after Rex’s untimely passing. Duke and Ripcord, impressed by what they have seen, want in but the other Joes, as they’re called, are skeptical. This is the most elite military fighting force on Earth, after all. However, during their training camp they are both so impressive that Hawk feels compelled to bring them aboard.

A good thing too, because the Baroness means to get those warheads for her employer. She and her employer’s personal ninja Shadowstorm (Lee) lead a team of specially enhanced soldiers – they’ve been injected with the nanomites, rendering them completely obedient, impervious to pain and utterly without fear – into the Joe’s Egyptian base, more casually known as The Pit. The raid is successful despite the best efforts of Joes Heavy Duty (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Scarlett (Nichols), Breaker (Taghmaoui) and Snake Eyes (Park), a mute ninja who turns out to be Shadowstorm’s brother. The new recruits acquit themselves nicely as well. However, the warheads are taken and General Hawk is seriously injured. The Baroness’ team is greatly assisted by Zartan (Vosloo), a sociopathic master of disguise.

The Joes trace the Warheads to Paris, where the Baroness have taken them to her husband, a civilian nuclear physicist (Fitoussi). She forces him to weaponize the warheads and then callously has Shadowstorm kill him. She is definitely not getting a puppy for Christmas!

In any case, the Joes catch up to her and Shadowstorm and chase them through the streets of Paris, but despite their best efforts, they are unable to prevent the Baroness from firing one of the warheads at a national icon of France, which could spread throughout Paris like a terrible virus. The Joes keep this from happening, but they have to find the remaining three warheads and neutralize them before something horrible happens.

Sommers is a talented director, whose Mummy pictures rebooted Universal’s classic horror icon and made for some of the more entertaining movies of the past decade. He has a deft hand at action sequences and it is no surprise therefore that the action here is first-rate. There are also some nifty special effects (the destruction of the Eiffel Tower sequence is one of the most memorable of the entire summer). It’s a fun movie to watch.

The main issue I have with the movie is in the writing. I suspect that the writers felt that the target audience would be young, male and not too picky when it comes to plot, dialogue or characterization. The box office numbers may bear out that decision; certainly my 20-year-old son was enthusiastic about the movie, lamenting that only a P.S.A. at the end of the movie (the animated series was notorious for their weekly Public Service Announcements that were punctuated with the line “Knowing is half the battle” – the line is used here by General Hawk) would have made this a perfect cinematic experience.

As I often do, I must humbly disagree with my son. I think that this could have been a much better movie. The actors are given lines that I don’t think I could possibly say with a straight face, so I do give the acting crew credit. Their characters are pretty two-dimensional for the most part; the only intriguing one was Ray Park’s Snake Eyes, who was, appropriately, mute. Tatum was also disappointing. He seems to me to have a great deal of potential, but I have yet to see him live up to it. He seems more content with wooden performances a la Paul Walker, my least favorite action star. I do have to say that he isn’t given a lot to work with here.

Cliché after chest-beating cliché is spouted by the actors until I felt a need to turn some of those high-tech weapons on the cast. The studio didn’t screen the movie for critics, which is usually a sign that they don’t have a lot of confidence that the critics are going to write positive reviews for the movie and on that point the studio was pretty accurate. I will say that the movie is big dumb fun. Yes, it’s dumb and it could have been a whole lot better, which is frustrating to watch. However, there is enough fun to give it a mild recommendation, but given some of the competition in the theaters right now, it would be completely understandable if you spent your money on a different movie.

REASONS TO GO: Some terrific action sequences are enhanced by spectacular special effects. The futuristic weapons in the movie have a sky-high cool factor. There will be a good deal of nostalgia for those who loved the animated television series, even though the movie is ostensibly based on the comic book series more than the cartoon.

REASONS TO STAY: Absolutely ludicrous dialogue is rendered meaningless by a plot that a second-grader could have come up with. Channing Tatum gives a performance that makes Al Gore look positively charismatic.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of cartoon violence – if you feel comfortable with your child watching the cartoon series, they should be okay seeing this as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Brendan Fraser makes a cameo as a training Sergeant who is, according to Fraser, a descendent of his character Rick O’Connell from The Mummy, also directed by Sommers.

HOME OR THEATER: I would recommend the big screen for the action and special effects, but keep in mind that this isn’t the best-written movie you’ll see this summer.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Transsiberian