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‘G.I. Joe’ Team Gets In Gear

gi_joe_posterIt's 105 degrees in the ice cave.

If the frost-blasted walls and stalactites were real instead of a massive styrofoam set for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, this sweltering cavern supposedly beneath the polar ice cap would have a serious case of global warming.

But this isn't really the path to the terrorist group Cobra's hidden lair, it's a giant soundstage in Downey, Calif., in spring, and the unseasonably scorching temperature is melting the G.I. Joe actors.

When the movie opens Friday, audiences can watch the stars shivering in their heavy, furry parkas in the supposedly sub-zero air, and know that despite the campy sci-fi battle story, there is some serious acting going on.

There are layers to these performances, literally: arctic wear on the outside, muscle-clinging armor beneath, bodysuits below that, and a liquefying actor at the core. It's enough to turn the G.I. Joe heroes into foes.

"No!" cries Rachel Nichols, who plays Scarlett, the ruby-haired, crossbow-wielding lead female of the Joe team. During a break, she points at co-star Marlon Wayans and declares: "You are wearing the battle gear!"

She explains: "It's hot today, and we have this really intricate gear that we wear every time the Joes go into battle. He's trying to beg off wearing it in the plane, when I wore it every day last week during the conversation I have with him while he's in the plane. He's a whiner."

'Kind of a family'

Wayans, who plays the Joes' comic relief, Ripcord, is laughing at her, with his thick white snowsuit undone to the waist and hanging off his back like the molting skin of a giant lizard. "I think it looks sexier if I just wear this," he says, indicating the much thinner bodysuit across his chest.

"It's kind of a family unit here," says a voice behind them - Ray Park, the martial arts expert known for playing wordless, fearsome characters such as Darth Maul from Star Wars and the Headless Horseman from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. In G.I. Joe, he is another strong, silent type: Snake Eyes, the faceless ninja commando who is one of the most iconic characters from the 1980s Hasbro toy line that inspired this film.

If they have it bad, he has it worse. Snake Eyes is covered from head to toe in an extra-thick layer of rubber. His face is covered, and a black visor rests over his eyes. On top of all that, he wears the armor and winter coat they do. All of them are hopping in and out of snowmobile cockpits that feel like ovens today.

The temperature isn't the only heat the movie has faced. Directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing), G.I. Joe cost an estimated $175 million and is an important tentpole for Paramount Pictures. It marks a relaunch of the characters for toymaker Hasbro.

But fears that the comic-book-style military adventure would be skewered by the media, and the recent sting of critical backlash against the studio's similar toy-to-movie sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, led Paramount to not show the film too widely in advance, except to a few sci-fi-oriented bloggers.

Those bloggers generally liked it, and tracking among moviegoers indicates strong affection for the G.I. Joe brand, but there also has been harsh criticism of some footage shown in trailers.

'Exercises in entertainment'

Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who also produced Transformers, expected the hurdles.

"Some people look at these kinds of movies like they're not serious exercises, but I think they are. They're serious exercises in entertainment," he says. "I like making all different kinds of movies. Always interesting how people exclude one form over another form. It's like, 'OK, everything can't be Atonement.'"

For those who remember G.I. Joe only from its 1960s anonymous soldier doll phase, the 1980s incarnation that inspires this film took a sci-fi fantasy approach. G.I. Joe was a colorful special-forces team made up of experts from all fields of military training. The enemy was Cobra, led by the mysterious madman Cobra Commander, and raven-haired villain The Baroness.

Part of the appeal of the franchise was its winking provocativeness - from the dominatrix-style of The Baroness, to her opposite, good-girl Scarlett, one of the few female Joes, and the favorite of little sisters whose brothers collected the toys.

Nichols says: "The battle gear is fantastic. And I like being the only girl, because I get special treatment, and all the boys have to listen to me."

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