G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009): I had previously seen a whopping two films in theaters this summer—Star Trek and The Hangover—putting off countless others for future Netflix releases. When I read a few reviews that suggested G.I. Joe was passable summer entertainment, i.e. big and dumb, but not insulting, I used them to justify a trip to the theater. Let’s learn from my mistake.
Was it big? Sure, they visit Egypt and the North Pole and Paris and Washington, D.C., among other locales. Things explode. Bras push-up to their fullest capacity. Is it dumb? Yes, Channing Tatum is a charisma vacuum rivaling the esteemed. Is it insulting? That depends on whether you’re eight years old. Sadly, I am not, so the prospect of lining up the Joe and Cobra toys actors and enacting a huge, all-out battle as means for a climax isn’t that enticing, especially when so many of the plot lines converging for this battle are face-in-hands stupid. G.I. Joe should have appealed equally to people who grew up on the toys/cartoon/comic and kids currently growing up on the toys/cartoon/comic, but it’s the latter audience that defines the tone (and brainpower) of this film.
Prom Night (2008): A remake of the 1980 Prom Night in title and general conceit only, the 2008 version underscores the uselessness of PG-13 horror movies. Maybe if it had been remotely suspenseful or creative, the lack of gore and sex wouldn’t be as noticeable, but after a decent opening sequence, every scene in Prom Night plays out roughly the same. Here’s a character. Oh no, don’t go up to the suite. The killer’s going to get you! He’s there! I think he stabbed you! You’re apparently dead. Yes, upon further confirmation, you are dead. Near the end of the movie, the filmmakers skip all of that “suspense” and just reveal a dead body. Imagine if they’d done that the whole time. It would be a wildly postmodern ten-minute short film.
If there’s any reason to be mildly curious about Prom Night—again, fight the urge—it’s the casting. Between Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) and James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka) from The Wire as detectives and Scott Porter (Jason Street from Friday Night Lights) as the loving boyfriend, it’ll trigger sympathy pains for the actors’ careers. But the most baffling choice is Johnathon Schaech as the killer. I’d recently caught part of Tom Hanks’ entertaining That Thing You Do! on television and wondered if I’d seen Jimmy Mattingly, the completely self-absorbed lead singer, in anything else. Lo and behold, he’s in this dreck. Unlike Elba and Ransone, he hasn’t done much to deserve better, but I feel sorry for anyone involved in a film like Prom Night.
Max Payne (2008): I’m going to call out Comcast’s on-screen guide on this movie. Not only did they generously give it one star of four, they called Mark Wahlberg’s performance “dynamic.” Is switching between being soul-crushingly dour, ineffectually angry, and tweaked-out traditionally dynamic? Granted, the last mode is at least entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good way, which is what I expected from the whole of Max Payne, but the film is so relentlessly down that making it to the final act feels like a death march. Mila Kunis as a super-serious assassin? Ludacris as a super-serious internal affairs officer? Chris O’Donnell as a super-serious pharmaceutical executive? No fun to be found in any of them! The cinematography is intriguing at first glance, all floating snowflakes and Gotham-esque NYC skyscrapers, but even when it hits the Constantine-derived supernatural outbursts, I just wanted to get on a train and leave.
Untraceable (2008): Here’s the tagline: “A cyber killer has finally found the perfect accomplice: You.” Oh no! The torture-porn equivalent to the 1995 Sandra Bullock classic The Net and its online identity theft paranoia, Untraceable banks on the collapse of its external audience of Rotten.com enthusiasts into its internal audience of murderous voyeurs, thereby setting up an uneasy sense of ownership for these crimes. You see, you’re responsible. So what’s the easiest solution to this ethical dilemma? Don’t watch Untraceable! Diane Lane’s had far better performances; Billy Burke actually plays a cop named “Eric Box”; Colin Hanks is far more likeable on Mad Men; and the conclusion is overwhelmingly hackneyed. You won’t miss out on anything and you won’t feel responsible for the murder of innocent animals and people.