G-Force (2009)

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The Blu-ray disc provides a gorgeous transfer and good extras, but the film remains a high-sheen jumble designed for attention-deficit viewers.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s name and image were all over the publicity material for last summer’s G-Force, a manic kid’s film that blends digitally animated rodents with a live-action framework. And, if the film’s near $300 million world-wide gross is any indication, the movie-going populace believes(as Disney’s marketing team obviously do) that the Bruckheimer name is as specific a piece of corporate branding as the Good Housekeeping seal. If you ask a random sampling of Americans to describe a Bruckheimer film, it’s more than likely that you’ll hear dozens of descriptions of exactly the same film – one that might sound a lot like Con Air, or Bad Boys, or National Treasure, or…well, you get the picture – and G-Force is basically that film, scaled down to kid-size.
There’s a temptation to relate the experience of watching this film to a rollercoaster, but we’re hesitant to encourage the out-of-context use of the term for marketing fodder. The comparison is apt, however; the film begins so abruptly – almost in mid stride – that we thought the chapter skip button had been erroneously hit. We meet Ben (Zach Galifianakis, smartly cast for pre-Hangover money), a tech guru with some nebulous attachment to the FBI, giving a mission briefing to one of his operatives, a guinea pig named Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell). We later learn (though this information might have been better provided up front) that Ben has invented a device that allows communication between humans and the rodents, and has specially trained a team for intelligence gathering work, including guinea pigs Juarez (Penelope Cruz) and Blaster (Tracy Morgan), mole Speckles (Nicolas Cage) and Mooch the Fly (Dee Bradley Baker). Suspecting electronics mogul Leonard Saber (HRH, the martini-dry Bill Nighy) of masterminding some sort of evil plan utilizing his vast network of computers, Ben sends the self-proclaimed G-Force team on an unsanctioned investigation into the Saber mansion, where Mission: Impossible-style they retrieve what they believe to be the crucial data. Unfortunately, when it’s played for Ben’s FBI superior Kip (Will Arnett, criminally underused), all there appears to be are the specs for a new – and harmless – cappuccino machine. Enraged, Kip orders Ben’s program terminated and has the animals given over for medical experimentation. Ben manages to secret them out of the lab and into a pet store where they meet up with fellow guinea pig Hurley (John Favreau) and Bucky, an irascible hamster. Can the team break out of the confines of the pet store in time to clear their name and restore G-Force to the Bureau?
G-Force is the directorial debut film for the improbably named Hoyt Yeatman, a visual effects artist who had worked for Bruckheimer on several features (and who helped craft the genuinely groundbreaking effects in The Abyss). He seems a likeable guy, at least whenever his candle isn’t utterly eclipsed by the Bruckheimer supernova, and with a serviceable story and a smarter script, there’s no telling how well he might have fared. G-Force, however, is a bit of a mess – a high-sheen, expensive, and hugely profitable mess.
G-Force was designed from the ground up to be a 3D theatrical experience, and not having caught the film on the big screen, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that this mission was accomplished. There’s scarcely a moment of screentime devoid of some sort of frantic action, as if Bruckheimer were afraid of losing its grip on even the most ADD-addled child in the audience. Were we reviewing the 3D theatrical version, we would certainly take this into account, but Disney (to our knowledge) doesn’t attempt to reproduce the 3D experience at home, and for a near-carnival attraction like G-Force, that’s like reviewing a color film on a black and white television. Almost all filmmaking elements from script to casting to direction, is at the service of the 3D technology, as opposed to Pixar’s Up (2009), which was just the opposite.
There was a golden opportunity here for mega-producer Bruckheimer to poke gentle fun at a genre which all but bears his name, but either the screenwriters were too timid to risk insult or lacked the wit for the job. There are a few gags that register, like a fight with a particularly malevolent cappuccino machine, but most fall flat (at least to this 2D-only reviewer) because there’s almost no connective narrative tissue to bind these scenes together. In the end, G-Force isn’t all that different from the majority of Bruckheimer’s recent output – cinema that makes one feel like they’re watching with a impatient 10 year-old, skipping through every scene without some sort of action element to keep their interest.
And let’s not forget how awesomely ugly these creatures are to look at! I don’t know how far down guinea pigs rank on the list of “furry animals that haven’t been made the action hero of a Hollywood blockbuster yet,” but I’d assume they were near the bottom. With their scraggy buck teeth and indistinct features, we had a hard telling one from another.
That having been said, there certainly are impressive production values on display (the producer’s trademark look has been faithfully reproduced) and there are some impressive actors in the mix. It’s always fun to watch Bill Nighy, though we wish Galifianakis had more to do (his sections of the gag reel show how funny he could have been if given room to breathe). The voice casting, however, is a major letdown. Only Cage scores as Speckles, as the actor clearly delights in using one of his odder voices (we were reminded of Vampire’s Kiss – but that’s just us). The rest of the cast reads the mostly flat dialog in a deflated, disjointed style. Morgan and Cruz are on hand to contribute “urban” characterizations in a typically crass attempt by Disney to pull in money from all available revenue streams (watching their scenes is like staring at a Colt 45 billboard). Rockwell tries, but, like the other actors, seems to be working in a vacuum, and is unable to stitch a silk purse out of the material.
Those who do feel compelled to pick up the film certainly won’t be disappointed by the presentation. As with most of their animation films, the set we received for review contained a Blu-Ray disc, a standard-def DVD, and a 3rd disc holding a digital copy of the film. The 1080p image of the BD is as gorgeous as you’d expect, with rich, deep colors and inky blacks. However, the area in which we expected to notice quality right away – the digital rendering of the guinea pigs – left us rather cold (though this is the fault of the film’s effects rather than the quality of the disc).
Extras include being able to watch the film in Cine-Explore mode, a BD-only extra that plays like a supped-up commentary track, featuring interviews, bts footage, conceptual artwork, etc. while the film itself plays inside a smaller window. It’s a quality extra that Disney is getting better and better at putting together. There are two other features exclusive to BD, including a resolve-testing tribute to digital effects in Bruckheimer’s movies, and a featurette on the animation lab. There’s also the aforementioned bloopers, a collection of deleted scenes, and music videos.

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