Popular culture has frequently paid homage to the lowly rodent. The Captain and Tennille scored a hit with Muskrat Love, their ode to arvicoline amour and Michael Jackson rode to the top of the charts on rat back with the tune Ben, possibly the only love song to a rat ever released.
Ben, of course, was the theme song to the 1972 movie of the same name. It was the sequel to Willard, the original “revolución de las ratas” flick. Ben and Willard, along with Stuart Little, Mr. Gopher, the burrowing terror from Caddyshack, Rizzo the Rat, Despereaux Tilling, Fievel Mousekewitz, the gang from Once Upon a Forest and of course, the biggest rodent star of all, Mickey Mouse, have left their mark in movie theatres. This weekend a new set of rodents that go by the collective name G-Force hope to do for guinea pigs what March of the Penguins did for tuxedo clad furry birds.
This mix of live action and animation from hotshot producer Jerry Bruckheimer centers on a team of trained secret agent guinea pigs. There’s team Leader Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell), Juarez (Penélope Cruz), Blaster (30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan) and mole Speckles (1996 Best Actor Nicolas Cage). In the midst of their biggest US government assignment ever—stopping evil billionaire Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy), from destroying the world with household appliances—they are shut down and sent to a pet shop. There they go rogue, hooking up with Hurley (Jon Favreau) and hamster Bucky (Steve Buscemi) and get back to the business of saving the world.
On the cute scale the G-Force members are somewhere between Ratatouille and Stuart Little, which is to say they are quite adorable. Pet stores should brace themselves for a run on guinea pigs but I couldn’t help but think that the rodents are less characters than prototypes for action figures and other toys. As is so often the case with bad kid’s films, more thought seems to have been given to the spin off toys kids will want after they leave the theatre than what is actually up on the screen.
The story is silly, but really, what did you expect from a film about crime fighting guinea pigs? It’s not the story that brings G-Force down, but the flat, bored performances.
The live actors aren’t the focus of the movie, but Wil Arnett and Bill Nighy do little more than simply show up and Zach Galifanikis blows whatever street cred he built up after his bizarre breakout performance in The Hangover.
The voice cast includes not one, but two Oscar winners, which may be an indication that the recession has finally taken root in Hollywood. When the best gig Penelope Cruz can get involves saying lines like “Oh, I have to save his fur again?” you know times are tight for a-listers.
Voice work wise only Nicolas Cage seems to be putting in much effort, doing a kind of Pee Wee Herman impression as the brianiac mole Speckles and Steve Buscemi has a naturally good cartoon voice but the other actors blow through their lines as if they had something better to do elsewhere.
The 3-D is sharp but other than a few fun stereoscopic gags it adds nothing to the movie except $3 to the price of the ticket.
G-Force has some good messages for kids about believing in yourself and the importance of family, but they are wrapped in a frenetic and cynical excuse for a movie that ends by setting itself up for a sequel which, if there is a patron saint of film critics, will never happen.