Thursday, July 30, 2009

G-Force: Furry frolic

G-Force (2009) • View trailer for G-Force
Three stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for mild rude humor and cartoon violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.30.09
Buy DVD: G-Force• Buy Blu-Ray: G-Force (Three-Disc DVD/Blu-ray Combo +Digital Copy)

Although little more than a trumped-up Saturday morning TV movie with delusions of big-screen grandeur, G-Force certainly will be loved by the small fry who represent its target audience.

Parents also will appreciate the child-friendly content, although they're likely to doze off a few times themselves. Unlike the family films that come from Pixar, as just one example, adults will find little to embrace here: no clever sight gags, and certainly nothing deep in the storyline.
With their careers on the line, our gadget-laden guinea pig spies -- Juarez, left,
a sexy martial-arts expert, and squad leader Darwin -- infiltrate a sinister
industrialist's home, hoping to access his secret computer files.

After introducing the admittedly hilarious notion of gadget-laden guinea pigs, the screenwriters don't even bother trying for winks and nods by spoofing established spy-flick franchises.

This is strictly simplistic kid stuff.

Mind you, that's not a bad thing; the action set-pieces are colorful and crazed, and the "stars" are cute and cuddly. Young viewers will be kept happily occupied, and they're not likely to worry about the frequently sloppy script's rather glaring lapses of continuity or common sense.

It seems that Dr. Ben Kendall (bearded Zach Galifianakis, also currently on view in The Hangover is a rather amazing scientific genius, having developed the means to communicate with animals  and get them to talk back  while also fabricating way-cool miniature gadgets designed to be used by small furry rodents ... and even houseflies.

For some unfathomable reason, though, this incredible display of intelligence and creativity isn't enough for the FBI, which wants to terminate Kendall's work.

Apparently high-IQ guinea pigs that function as crack espionage agents and manipulate all manner of gizmos isn't impressive enough for Washington. (One wonders what would have caught D.C.'s attention!)

Hoping to demonstrate his team's value, Ben dispatches his pint-size agents  guinea pigs Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell), Juarez (Penélope Cruz) and Blaster (Tracy Morgan), a star-nosed mole named Speckles (an all but unrecognized Nicolas Cage) and a camera-laden "reconnaissance fly" dubbed Mooch  on an emergency assignment.

Their goal: infiltrate the home of sinister industrialist Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) and recover a computer file that could explain the mysterious link between this shadowy figure, his "Sabersense" line of household appliances, his orbiting satellites and a series of recent conferences with equally questionable colleagues from around the world.

Kendall hopes that a successful mission  involving a case that has flummoxed the FBI for two years  will prove the value of his work.

Alas, things go a bit awry. The story's resident FBI pinhead, Special Agent Kip Killian (Will Arnett), orders Kendall's facility shuttered. Worse yet, Killian demands that the critters be de- gadgetized and turned over for use as 'regular' guinea pigs: a fate worse than death. (My ... is Agent Killian a stupid over-reactor, or what?)

Helped by Kendall's perky assistant, Marcie (Kelli Garner, shamefully neglected), the resourceful Darwin orchestrates an escape. But now that they're in the outside world, stripped of their wonderful mechanical toys, how can our diminutive heroes survive pet shops, wandering cats, abusive small children and pursuit by Killian's minions?

Worse yet, what will happen when the countdown to Saber's clandestine computer program finally reaches zero?

The pet shop detour adds a few more members to the cast, notably an unkempt guinea pig layabout named Hurley (Jon Favreau), present primarily for some flatulence jokes, and a ferociously territorial hamster named Bucky (Steve Buscemi). Bucky never amounts to much in this story  a shame, since Buscemi gets more oomph into his line readings than the other voice actors  but Hurley tags along for comic relief and the obligatory plot development that requires a slacker to be all that he can be.

Our heroes' subsequent adventures, skirmishes and near-death experiences are appropriately goofy, and everything certainly looks real enough.

Editors Jason Hellmann and Mark Goldblatt make the most of what the extremely imaginative special-effects team  headed by John Clinton, Seth Maury and Troy Saliba  whips up.

Then, too, the various critters themselves are impressively lifelike, down to individual strands of fur, inquisitive nose-twitches and realistic eyes. Frankly, this type of computer animation has become astonishing.

A rather curious thing happens in this story's third act, however, when director Hoyt H. Yeatman's gentle little fantasy suddenly morphs, like all of Saber's household appliances, into a riff on Transformers.

Blenders, microwaves, telephones and everything else suddenly sprout spider-legs and bad attitudes, and go on a rampage just like the kitchen assault Shia LaBeouf faced at the beginning of this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Are these guys reading each other's e-mail, or what?

I'd be more vexed, except that this portion of G-Force turns out to be a better Transformers movie than the official Transformers entry that debuted several weeks ago. (Which, granted, isn't saying much.)

This sudden shift in tone is wholly unwarranted, though: a noisy, clanking excuse for the destruction of personal property that seems inserted solely because producer Jerry Bruckheimer, known for his similarly mindless adult action flicks, wanted to leave his hulking footprints on this project.

(Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. You just couldn't help yourself, eh?)

While this climax doesn't quite become scary, it'll likely give pause to impressionable tots who may worry about their furry heroes getting squashed by giant killer robots. Suddenly, this film ain't cute no more.

For this reason and all the others, I kept seeing G-Force as little beyond its many missed and misfired opportunities, although  in fairness  children are unlikely to care about such things.

And since all Bruckheimer productions tend to be sloppy, I guess one can't expect better from this one.

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