We live in a marvelous age, one where technological advancements have made it relatively easy to produce a film in which computer-generated guinea pigs interact seamlessly with flesh-and-blood humans. What’s extraordinary is that a film can have all that and still be boring. Eighty years ago, people were delighted just to see movies talk. In 2009, you can watch animated rodents save the world and still think, “Meh. What else you got?”
“G-Force” is the subject, a harmless and good-natured family flick that unfortunately relies so much on its central conceit — small animals have been trained as government spies!! — that it forgets to do anything else. Take the animals out of the equation and you’re left with an exceedingly generic secret-agent adventure — which may be no surprise, given that the screenplay is by the husband-and-wife team of Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, who also wrote the “National Treasure” movies, “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” and “Bad Boys II.” If anyone knows by-the-numbers action movies, it’s those two. (The first-time director is Hoyt Yeatman, an Oscar-winning special-effects wizard with a long Hollywood résumé.)
The G-Force is a squad of three guinea pigs and a mole that have been fitted with devices that translate their squeakings into human speech, and then trained as spies by a low-level government scientist named Ben (Zach Galifianakis). Ben can also train insects to carry tiny cameras into small spaces, though it doesn’t seem to be a matter of “training” them so much as just telling them what to do and they do it. Ben is almost literally the lord of the flies.
The lead guinea pig is Darwin (voice of Sam Rockwell). He’s aided by a feisty Latina guinea pig, Juarez (Penelope Cruz), and a freewheeling African American guinea pig, Blaster (Tracy Morgan), who says things like “off the hizzook” and “pimp my ride.” The mole, Speckles (Nicolas Cage, doing a silly voice), is their tech guy, the one who talks them through a mission by electronically surveilling whatever facility they’re breaking into. His ethnic background is unspecified.
Ben has the G-Force investigating a billionaire industrialist named Saber (Bill Nighy), whose line of electronic appliances may be at the center of a weird scheme to take over the world. But when the mission to retrieve Saber’s secret plans goes awry, the FBI (led by Will Arnett, whose presence the film never takes advantage of) shuts down Ben’s little petting zoo and sends the animals to a pet shop.
From there it’s “Toy Story” meets “Mission: Impossible” meets “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” The guinea pigs encounter an insane hamster (Steve Buscemi), who might be part-ferret, and a fellow guinea pig, Hurley (Jon Favreau), who’s chubby and flatulent and winds up tagging along as the rodents escape and try to stop Saber from enacting his dastardly plan.
To some extent, the genericness may be intentional; it’s kind of amusing to see action-movie cliches reenacted by guinea pigs. But once the novelty wears off it’s just a spy caper with a few laughs and some mild adventure — enough to divert the kids, probably, but nothing special. And now I’m forced to contemplate what it says about the world when flawlessly executed special effects that bring cartoon rodents to life inspire nothing more than a ho-hum.
C+ (1 hr., 29 min.; )