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.

G-Force – Animation Film Review

G-Force (2009)All right, G-FORCE is getting crucified by critics, but let’s try to look at it with a bit more objectivity, if we can. It’s true that it’s not a good film, but neither is it quite as tragic as you may have heard. Still, it should be pointed out that its releasing studio, Walt Disney Studios, knew it’d be in for a prerelease whippin’ if it let critics get a look at it before it actually hit theaters. That speaks volumes about the faith the studio execs had in their product. And product is the operative word here because it sure looks like Jerry Bruckheimer & team had one main concern on their minds: lure kids in by selling them a bill of goods involving cute, talking, action-seeking fur balls. And pull them in they did; Friday’s first day release figures show a strong haul of nearly $11.5 million. Its Saturday & Sunday takes should be about the same, putting the film on track for a $32 million+ opening weekend and a box-office win over HARRY POTTER.
A portion of what’s so disappointing about G-FORCE is that it’s a good concept that wasn’t given the legs to scamper along as it should have been allowed to. I liked the idea behind it when I first saw ads for it and I still hold to that view. I thought—I hoped—it could be another happy surprise in the same vein BOLT was last year. But I quickly learned that wasn’t gonna be the case. It was easy to see that adults were doomed when the theater remained nearly silent of any laughter until we were hit with our first flatulence joke. At that point all the little kiddies erupted. Where’s Pixar when you need ‘em?
The tale runs thusly: G-Force is an elite group of…well, rodents (guinea pigs to be precise). Darwin (Sam Rockwell) is leader, Juarez (Penélope Cruz) is the martial arts expert, and Blaster (Tracy Morgan) is the action junkie. Things are rounded out with one computer whiz mole named Speckles (Nicolas Cage) and a fly named Mooch (Dee Bradley Baker), who’s equipped with a surveillance camera. These little tykes have been engaged, as it were, by the U.S. government to save us all from an evil plot to take over the world. And, of course, the whole rodent special project is in danger of being shut down by its self-interested project leader. Will our furry friends succeed in thwarting the evil-doers and save their project and themselves? Your guess is as good as mine, and I’ve seen it so I can make a pretty darn accurate assertion. In other words, it’s pretty easy digs here.
G-Force (2009)The germ of the piece is a nice, high-concept and there are some entertaining moments embedded within G-FORCE. It’s simply that things went off-road in the wrong manner. One could see a wild, clever and wacky MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-type of adventure just itching to break out. Unfortunately, those involved didn’t seem interested in working hard enough to expand on that line of thinking and entertain viewers of all ages; they appeared content with the three to ten-year-old set. And that’s a shame, because it could have been a raucous LOONEY TUNES style ride.
On the plus side, G-FORCE has quite solid production values and the critters are well animated and cute enough in their rendered form, but they just aren’t engaging enough and the flimsy plot doesn’t help matters any. The jackass FBI project leader was clichéd; the impetus  behind the continued chasing of the special agent rodents (the fact that he didn’t want to be embarrassed back in Washington over what he saw as a botched mission was weak and, frankly speaking, boring. Will Arnett (RATATOUILLE, the upcoming JEFF THE DEMON) was effective enough in the roll; it’s simply that he wasn’t given interesting material with which to work.
The good guy inventor who made the G-Force team possible was written and directed with even less intrigue or spunk. Now, I’m not too familiar with actor Zach Galifianakis’ work (THE HANGOVER, INTO THE WILD) and I’ve no wish to slam anyone in particular, yet in G-FORCE he was about as interesting and entertaining as a dead carp. Yes, there’s enough blame to spread to the writers and director, but much of it lay on his own shoulders. (The situation reminded me of the casting blunder of another Disney-released-film called THE BLACK HOLE. Anyone old enough to remember should know what a gaff it was to engage Joseph Bottoms for the part of Lieutenant Charles Pizer.)
Kelli Garner (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, TAKING WOODSTOCK) was kind of spunky cute, but she too was given little worth doing. The same can even be said for Bill Nighy (the upcoming ASTRO BOY, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END)…well, except for the cute part. I was looking forward to his performance, but there just wasn’t much there. The critters got all the real attention, yet they didn’t get the right type, so G-FORCE never gelled as it could have.
This brings me back to the writers themselves. With no less than five involved—Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Tim Firth—it’s safe to bet that there were too many cooks in the G-FORCE kitchen. Add to that the fact that the Wibberleys gave us the screenplays to the likes of THE SHAGGY DOG, I SPY and CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE—they were nominated for a Razzie Award on the latter—and you can start to smell some spoiled soup.
Writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have worked on some noteworthy projects, such as ALADIN, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARABBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL and TREASURE PLANET (which I seem to have liked more than most). The too-many-cooks issue must’ve diluted their ingredients, however, because they didn’t come up with the goods here.
Director Hoyt Yeatman thought up the story idea (kudos there) and makes his debut as a feature director with it. His previous background lies mainly in the field of visual effects and his resume as a supervisor, etc., is an impressive one in that arena; he even worked on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE back in the day. As far as the technical aspects of his direction were concerned, he handled them fine. It’s in the areas of solid storytelling and character development that he needs more development of his own.
Even Trevor Rabin’s music score seemed off the mark on G-FORCE. It was too sincere, actually, draining the movie of some of the wacky, creative flavor it needed. I kept imagining what the likes of Michael Giacchino (THE INCREDIBLES, STAR TREK, UP) might have done with it.
In the end, what G-FORCE really needed was a deft hand like John Lasseter’s to guide it in. It did have the potential to be a sharp, cleaver, fun, family-friendly offering (yes, that means for mom & dad too), but it was difficult for an adult to stick with the thing much of the time. The character of Hurly (Jon Favreau – IRON MAN’s director) seemed to sum things up in tidy fashion—while Darwin was rambling on about something—when he said: “Sorry, I just tuned out there. What were you saying?”

Darwin, Juarez, and Blaster on a Mission

G-FORCE (Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista, 2009; 90 min.) Directed by Hoyt Yeatman. Screenplay by Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Tim Firth. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Todd Arnow. Executive produced by Duncan Henderson, David P.I. James, Chad Oman and Mike Stenson. Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli. Production Design by Deborah Evans. Costumes by Ellen Mirojnick. Visual Effects Supervision by Mitchell S. Drain and Scott Stokdyk. Music by Trevor Rabin. Edited By Mark Goldblatt, Jason Hellmann, Bud S. Smith and M. Scott Smith. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, Jon Favreau, Steve Buscemi, Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Kelli Garner, Tyler Patrick Jones, Piper Mackenzie Harris, Gabriel Casseus, Jack Conley, Niecy Nash, Justin Mentell and Loudon Wainwright. MPAA Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor.

G-Force opens on July 24

You thought chihuahuas were cute – well, how about this: a specially trained squad of guinea pigs battles a diabolical billionaire to foil his evil plan. In 3-D yet!  Hoyt Yeatman directs this computer-animated fantasy-comedy from Wat Disney Studios. Will Arnett, Penélope Cruz, Zach Galifianakis, Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi, and Tracy Morgan provide the voices.