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G-Force

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/24/09 00:00:00

"Keeps running on its wheel and going nowhere."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

The good folks at Disney have given their Talking Animal Movie Randomizer (™) yet another spin, and this time it’s landed on an action-comedy about talking superspy guinea pigs. They’re calling it “G-Force,” and, hey, whatever keeps them from making “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2,” I suppose.

The results are about what you’d expect, at least in the set-up. Generic Scientist Nerd Ben (Zach Galifianakis) and Sexy Assistant Marcie (Kelli Garner) have been training animals to be secret agents, and have outfitted them with voice translator thingies that allows us to understand their sassy wisecracks. Folks hoping to see the warm n’ fuzzy guinea pigs seen in commercials should note that they’ll also get to also sit through multiple scenes featuring an army of intelligent cockroaches. Delightful!

Our guinea pig heroes have been designed to appeal to all the demographics: Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell, of all people) is the everyman leader; Juarez (Penelope Cruz, of all people) is the tough, fiery Latina; Blaster (Tracy Morgan, of all… actually, that one makes sense) is the “urban” one who says things like “pimp my ride” and “off the huzzook.” Later, we meet a fourth guinea pig, Hurley (Jon Favreau), an overweight bumbler who farts all the time, and a neurotic hamster (Steve Buscemi) who, um, gets comically neurotic. The only thing missing from this list of characters-compiled-by-committee is a geeky hacker… but wait! We also get a goggles-wearing mole named Speckles (a completely unrecognizable Nicolas Cage) who’s some sort of computer expert.

The script, credited to six writers (including a story credit for Hoyt Yeatman, the special effects veteran making his directorial debut here), is a shambles of half-baked plot and quarter-baked development. It’s not so much a story as it is a string of barely connected ideas: the mini-agents uncover a scheme by appliance tycoon Leonard Saber (a woefully underused Bill Nighy) to take over the world, or something; Ben’s FBI boss (Will Arnett) shuts down G-Force and orders the agents to be captured (something about talking guinea pigs revealing state secrets, or whatever), prompting them to escape and try to crack the Saber case while on the run; the team spends some time in a local pet store; there are several escapes and chases, involving both children and feds; Hurley becomes convinced he’s Darwin’s brother; and so on.

It’s like watching a story outline where the connecting ideas haven’t quite been figured out yet. The worst offender comes about two-thirds through, when Ben reveals a secret to his G-Force agents about their past; it’s a cheap attempt at injecting drama when it’s not needed. This typical “learn to have faith in yourself” lesson-packed kiddie flick plot point comes out of nowhere, and is resolved so quickly, that it feels hastily thrown in after some meeting with a clueless producer who insisted on such a moment.

Which is how the whole movie goes. There’s a sequence where the guinea pigs are tortured by two kids; the girl dresses Juarez up in a pink gown and tiara, while the boy plants Blaster in a remote control car and tries to break stuff, and we can imagine our Clueless Producer demanding the sequence because kids just love “Toy Story.” Meanwhile, a major portion of the plot involves kitchen appliances that transform into destroyer robots, and we wonder if our Clueless Producer got a hold of an advance copy of the “Transformers 2” script. (If nothing else, the giant robot that pops up in the final act is a knee-jerk reaction to the first “Transformers” and an acknowledgement of the second. Clueless Producer must’ve said something about how much boys like their fighting robots, and so what if they don’t belong in a movie about talking guinea pigs?)

There are some clever jokes thrown in throughout, and the voice acting is far better than expected, especially Cage, who’s clearly enjoying the chance to get silly with a goofy mole voice. But every good punchline is countered by three limp gags (ranging from fart jokes to yuks about Facebook and Paris Hilton), and the live action actors are all wasted on barely-there parts (except for Loudon Wainwright, who makes the most out of a one-line cameo). There’s a heap of action, but none of the sequences thrill the way they should, perhaps because despite (or because of?) all those writers, nobody bothered to figure out if their movie should be a parody, a breezy action-comedy, a straightforward action, or what.

Yeatman seems too distracted by the technical angle to bother with telling a decent story. His misplaced attentions result in some truly incredible CG work - the critters look impressively realistic, and the action pieces, as empty as they may be, do have a certain visual zip to them.

Yeatman’s most inventive decision is to slightly letterbox the picture on the big screen, which I originally mistook for a framing error in the projection booth until I realized the extra space was being used during certain 3-D effects; objects including sparks, flying glass, and the guinea pigs themselves extend into the letterboxed area, enhancing the “coming at you!!” effect desired by 3-D by creating an “escaping the screen” feel. It’s a cheat, but certainly a resourceful one. (I don’t know if the same trick will be repeated in 2-D theatrical presentations, or on home video.)

Wouldn’t it have been nice, though, if such clever attention was given to the story, too? “G-Force” has a script that goes by on autopilot, assuming that any old assortment of fart jokes, cheesy one-liners, and chase scenes will be enough to appease tots, and the filmmakers are happy to carry this assumption further as long as it means more time to make sure the CGI fur looks great.

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