Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Will Arnett, Penélope Cruz, Bill Nighy
(Walt Disney Pictures)
US theatrical: 24 Jul 2009 (General release)
UK theatrical: 31 Jul 2009 (General release)
How do you get from Volver to G-Force? While there are surely more interesting and worthy questions you might ask PenÄlope Cruz, this one might come to mind on seeing G-Force, also known as the “first 3-D animated feature” from producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Cruz is surely not the voice actor who might be queried regarding this feeble effort. But as the super-spy team’s designated girl, a guinea pig with big eyes named Juarez, she does stand out. This premise does not go unnoticed by the team’s eligible boys, Darwin (Sam Rockwell) and Blaster (Tracy Morgan). They spend a little too much time trying to get her attention, or rather, to gauge her level of “interest” in them, “interest” being the apparent term of art for guinea pigs who must perform as adults (undercover agents with gizmos and weapons) and children (identification points for the presumed target audience) at the same time.
Granted, this is a difficult line to walk. But this movie is hardly interested in difficulties, or subtleties or even those pleasures that might be taken in watching animated rodents act out childish fantasies. Rather, G-Force, deeply unclever and unoriginal, is a slap-dash, high-concept mish-mash of Transformers and Alvin and the Chipmunks that condescends to its presumed viewers in the most tedious ways.
It didn’t have to be this way. There is a sliver of parody in the early going, when Darwin and his team—including the nerdy mole Speckles (Nic Cage) and prompted by their human chief Ben (Zach Galifiankis)—infiltrate a mansion owned by home appliances magnate Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy). The deployment of teeny gizmos is cute, the obstacles to be overcome are predictable but not offensive (sensitive-nosed guard dogs, clumsy human feet), and the team’s tech-talk is what you’d expect from a screenplay drawing from every available precursor, from James Bond to Indiana Jones, True Lies to Wanted.
After this bit of insider’s business, however, when the plot kicks in, the movie pretty much slides off the rails. Darwin sees computer-file evidence of a scheme to exterminate the world—via microchips implanted in microwave ovens and coffee makers Saber has sold—and duly believes he’s done good work. In order to extend the movie’s running time, however, this achievement must be thwarted. As Ben and his assistant Marcie (Kelli Garner) imagine they will be rewarded, especially for training guinea pigs to rappel and parachute off buildings and drive little cars, as well as speak English with the use of micro-translators, they soon learn this is not the case. Something goes wrong in their presentation to FBI Special Agent in Charge Kip Killian (Will Arnett), who the orders their lab shut down and the guinea pigs confiscated.
Mini-mayhem follows: they rodents, for a minute, by hiding in a cage en route to a pet store. Here they meet another big-hearted, if clumsy, guinea pig, Hurley (Jon Favreau), and a conniving hamster, Bucky (Steve Buscemi), before Blaster and Juarez are taken home by a couple of kids. The bull older brother Connor (Tyler Patrick Jones) sends Blaster through an obstacle course on a remote-controlled car, while decidedly uncharming Penny (Piper Mackenzie Harris) dresses up Juarez in a tiara and lipstick. The guinea pigs fight back, in a sequence where the kids are knocked down and generally abused, essentially for trying to remake their new pets in their own stereotypical gender images. (This punishment seems an odd choice, in a movie that wants to connect kid viewers with its little animal heroes.)
After eluding mostly clueless FBI agents in big fast cars (in a sequence lifted from Toy Story 2), the guinea pigs team is reunited—just in time to bond over their mutual misfitness and combat those computerized appliances, now triggered into borgy hive-mind mode. As the action descends into the sort of mindless crash-and-burn explosions and effects that characterize the Transformers franchise, the protagonists’ cuteness pretty much falls by the wayside.
This much might be expected, of course, if not precisely forgiven. More hackneyed and less defensible is the movie’s dedication to egregious stereotypes, not only with regard to gender, but also race and ethnicity. Even as the guinea pigs—whose DNA, you learn apropos of nothing, is “98.7% identical to humans”—perform their ludicrous stunts and fart jokes, name-check icons like Macgyver, and quote repeatedly from other movies (Indiana Jones, Apocalypse Now, Die Hard), they also flaunt their status as dreary clichés: while Darwin is bland and white-bready, Juarez, for all her tomboyishness, is reduced to muttering about her dress size and urging her boys to “vamos,” and Blaster must thrill to a newly outfitted vehicle by exclaiming, “Pimp my ride!” There are not enough explosions on the planet to cover over such noise.