Movie Review: Disney's 'G-Force,' Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Darwin and his guinea pig G-men have to stop an evil arms dealer in the movie. Really.
Darwin and his guinea pig G-men have to stop an evil arms dealer in the movie. Really. (Copyright Disney Enterprises)
By Dan Kois
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 24, 2009

A dispiriting primer on the low regard Hollywood has for the intelligence and curiosity of children -- and the time and money of their parents -- "G-Force" is an aggressively stupid entry in the family-adventure genre from Jerry Bruckheimer, the mega-producer behind "Bad Boys," "The Rock," "Pearl Harbor" and other movies featuring explosions and quips.

An espionage thriller threateningly billed as "the first Jerry Bruckheimer movie in 3-D," "G-Force" is a visual feast and an intellectual famine. It's rare that there's such a gulf between the care lavished on a film's lustrous look and the carelessness exhibited in its perfunctory screenplay. At least "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" had some strained pseudo-philosophy.

The spies in "G-Force" are specially trained guinea pigs, Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell), Juarez (Penélope Cruz) and Blaster (Tracy Morgan). With the assistance of a buzzing, microcamera-laden fly and a tech-savvy mole (Nicolas Cage), the furry spooks of "G-Force" try to bring down arms dealer Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) and save their tiny fraction of the FBI's research budget.

Their handler is played by bearded comedian Zach Galifianakis, who, fresh off his inspired turn in "The Hangover," is somehow made boring here. (That a scene late in "G-Force" between veteran scene-stealers Galifianakis, Nighy and Will Arnett passes by without incident might be the movie's most inexplicable failing.)

When the G-Force is disbanded and its principals are trapped in a pet shop with flatulent cage-mate Hurley (voiced by Jon Favreau), the spies must break out to foil Saber's nefarious plan for world domination.

So far, so good. "G-Force" has a cute premise, and director Hoyt Yeatman, a longtime visual-effects supervisor, makes good use of 3-D, zipping viewers through tunnels, up walls and even, at one point, into Nighy's nose. I was especially fond of the lovely way that 3-D technology makes splashing water or flying sparks appear to splatter outside the picture's frame. From homicidal robotic coffeemakers to a dazzling fireworks display, "G-Force" is relentlessly visually inventive, which makes it a real shame that it's also unbearably dumb.

After all, we don't love the Bruckheimer oeuvre only for the explosions, splendid though they may be -- we love Bruckheimer movies for the quips. And the quips of "G-Force" are sorely lacking. Instead of saying anything funny or surprising, the guinea pigs of "G-Force" utter banalities and stock phrases, as if the producers bought dialogue at some kind of bulk joke outlet. Morgan's guinea pig suffers particularly from this problem, spouting generic dated hip-hop catchphrases: "Let's take it to the house!" "That's off the hizzy!" "Pimp my ride!"

Boilerplate like this is a poor substitute for legitimate Tracy Morgan craziness, a little of which might have gone a long way toward livening up "G-Force," which gets most of what little comic energy it has from a series of fart jokes. Not that I have anything against fart jokes. I just wish the fart jokes were better.

Like all non-Pixar children's movies these days, "G-Force" also tosses in a few sops for the grown-ups, gags meant to make the parents in the audience nod knowingly and chuckle at the filmmakers' shrugging acknowledgment that a movie like this could never interest them. In "G-Force," these gags mostly entail barely masked cursing ("Holy foxes!" Darwin exclaims, upon seeing some foxes) or wan pop-culture references ("Yippee kay yay, coffee maker," Darwin says, while fighting a coffee maker).

By the time Darwin, flattening a pursuing car's tires with a rotating saw blade, shouts: "This is my little friend! Say hello to it!" you realize that these references don't even rise to the level of satire. They're basically re-tweets from sources far more entertaining than this. The one exception is a brilliant 15-second parody of Magneto's concentration-camp origin story from "X-Men" -- "Son," a doomed father says, "if you ever have the chance to bring humans to their knees, do it" -- that made me laugh out loud.

Sadly, that was the only time I did. Mostly, I thought about what children watching this movie would learn about storytelling: that it doesn't matter, that originality comes second to familiarity, that jokes need not be funny to "work." The sheer lack of wit in "G-Force" is baffling; it's easy to imagine a version of this high-concept adventure that features smarter characters, better lines and a more coherent plot.

But Bruckheimer, super-producer, knows he's assured of boffo box office whether his movie is good or bad, thanks to a big marketing campaign and the Disney imprimatur, so he's evidently uninterested in whether it's well or poorly written. It's quite possible he doesn't even know the difference. Bruckheimer paid at least five screenwriters to work on this script, but unlike special effects, screenplays rarely get better when you throw money at them.

G-Force (88 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company