Paramount's decision to withhold G.I. JOE: Rise of the Cobra from legit critics is more puzzling after catching a Friday morning matinee.
This is actually a pretty good action flick, as brawny as Paramount's other Hasbro toy adaptation — Michael Bay's Transformers flicks — although less frantic, and assembled as a genuine movie rather than a nonsensical fireworks display.
Bad reviews haven't prevented Revenge of the Fallen from pushing $400 million in ticket sales, so hiding a better movie from reviewers creates the impression that it stinks. Thankfully, that isn't the case with G.I. JOE: Rise of the Cobra.
Director Stephen Sommers (whose Mummy movies didn't charm critics) gives his movie a constant swagger yet without the pretension of greatness clouding Bay's creative instincts. Rise of the Cobra is wall-to-wall gadgets and comic book fantasy presented with the rambunctious imagination of a 10-year-old playing with action figures. Sure, it's loud and dumb but freely admits that, and its invitation to join the silliness is easy to accept.
The central heroes are Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), regular Army joes assigned to transport four warheads designed by Scottish arms merchant McCullen (Christopher Eccleston). These aren't typical nuclear warheads but "nanomites" -- cyber-termites that can eat through anything. Like the Eiffel Tower after an ambush places them in the wrong hands.
Duke recognizes one of the terrorist thieves; his former fiance Ana (Sienna Miller) whose brother Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was presumably killed in action, turning her to the dark side. Duke and Ripcord convince General Hawk (Dennis Quaid in John Wayne mode) to admit them to G.I. JOE, an ultra-elite force patrolling the world.
From there, it's all about the action sequences, and Sommers sets up some doozies. Parisian streets are the locale for a car chase goosed by good guys in "Delta 6 accelerator suits," enabling them to run faster, jump higher and blast their Gatling gun bracelets louder. The villain's lair, hidden under a polar ice cap, attracts G.I. JOE's underwater forces in a battle paralleled with Ripcord chasing a warhead to Washington, D.C., in a supersonic jet.
Silly? You bet. Entertaining? More than you may expect.
Sommers wraps up his movie with tantalizing hints of a sequel. Unlike that other Hasbro summer movie with massive assembly required, the G.I. JOE franchise deserves it.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.