Film Review | Sunday, 09 August 2009
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The rodents in the ointment

I figured it was only a matter of time until somebody got together and made a film about a guinea pig taskforce. In a lot of ways, it’s a dream project for every hardened Hollywood cynic.
If you combine the cuteness factor with the action, you’d be unstoppable, right? We all know that such obvious gimmicks normally backfire, so the fact that the industry seems chronically attached to them must be an indication of either a worrying lack of self-awareness, or of a confidence that never really allows you to see past your own nose, both of which amount to the same thing, really. Pixar’s most lukewarm outing, Bolt (which came out last spring) proved that you can’t just cobble two genres together and expect the anthropomorphised protagonist to carry it - you need to put some creative chaos into the machinery before proceeding along.
In the case of debuting director Hoyt Yeatman’s G-Force, the conglomeration of Hollywood cynics couldn’t be more dishearteningly perfect. It is a collaboration between Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer, uber-common-denominator-producer extraordinaire, responsible for overseeing films such as Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and a number of other actioners that, it saddens me to predict, will be referred to as ‘classics’ of the genre a few decades down the line - not thanks to their quality, but their consistent popularity with the masses. A popularity so consistent, in fact, that one would hazard to say that they tap into a kind of malignant aspect of the zeitgeist, grabbing the lowest common denominator by the proverbial cajones and refusing to let go, squeezing it dry for the next explosion-ridden ‘thrill-ride’. And what on earth has been going on with Disney? Seeing Tinkerbell dutifully forming a pixie-dust arc over the trademark castle during the opening credits, I almost did a double-take: isn’t Pixar responsible for their CGI features anyway? Well, apparently not, and pairing up with Bruckheimer seems to be their attempt at getting back on the map. Which is just as well: all the veteran producer really ever needs is a generous wad of cash (if Disney have nothing else these days, I’m sure they’ve still got plenty of that) and a steady set of hands: Yeatman seems like the perfect guinea pig (pardon the pun) to test the animation waters without much interference: his only previous experience is visual effects work, so we’re hardly talking about auteurs here. Which is exactly what you need, when you’re making a film where you have not one, but two sets of clichés combating for screen time, as lighthearted animation and action are born out of the unholy alliance of Disney and Bruckheimer.

With obvious advantages as stealth agents, our team of guinea pigs, consisting of promising rookie Darwin (Sam Rockwell), Blaster (Tracy Morgan), the mercilessly flirtatious Juarez (Penelope Cruz) and Speckles, the mole who is in fact a mole in every sense (Nicholas Cage) are sent on a mission by their human leader Ben (Zach Galifianakis) to uncover a conspiracy behind the latest products from Leonard Saber (Billy Nighy). The mission appears to be successful, but once the FBI find out about this unauthorised mission, they send Kip Killian (a gloriously miscast Will Arnett, of Arrested Development fame) to shut them down. Left out on the street and having nothing to depend on but their grit, the critters have no more than a few hours to stop Saber’s nefarious plan, while Darwin contends with possibly having discovered his long-lost brother Hurley (John Favreau), a possibility that Hurley is far more enthusiastic about than our protagonist.

As the film ambles dutifully along, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that distinguishes itself as a clear and undeniable flaw, as such. So tight is its formulaic grip that nothing gets past it. And that includes any genuine excitement or humour. Save for a deft twist at the end and some decent action set-pieces (a car chase culminating in a fireworks display is particularly memorable), the film shamelessly glides through its screen time on autopilot. The kids will love it either way, of course. But that’s not what you’re here for, is it?


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