G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
110 min., rated PG-13.
If the silly, bombastic film adaptation of the 1980s Hasbro toy property, 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," proved to be forgettably junky hardware, there's a good chance the next installment probably wasn't going to turn things around. Four years later, here we are with "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," a sequel of sorts, directed by Jon M. Chu ("Step Up 3D"), that doesn't pretend to be anything it's not and never lacks noise, ridiculous macho posturing, rah-rah heroism, and stuff getting blown up. Originally, the movie was scheduled to come out last summer before Paramount Pictures pulled it and delayed its release to add a 3-D post-conversion and add more scenes with Channing Tatum. As it turns out, a later release date didn't make a load of difference in not making "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" a pseudo-exciting bucket of nothing.
That little thing called "story" isn't really worth deciphering, but, since screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who are far from their clever strokes in "Zombieland") had a hand in scribbling out a script, here goes! The elite military unit of G.I. Joes, headed by Duke (Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), is called into action when the Pakistani president is killed and his country's warheads are hijacked. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the soldiers, the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) has been locked up in a bomb shelter and replaced in disguise by Zartan (also Pryce), who's part of enemy terrorist group Cobra. Once the Joes are ambushed, the only survivors are Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), who, of course, must ruin Zartan's nefarious plans for world domination with a dangerous weapon. Also, Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Jinx (Elodie Yung), and the ripped Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) are there for back-up.
There's really not a whole lot to say about such a big, dumb, overblown live-action cartoon as a "G.I. Joe" movie. As inherently goofy and cartoonish as it all is, people actually die and we should probably be caring. (This might be one of the most violent PG-13 movies without a drop of blood being seen.) For the initiated who are somehow invested in these characters for no reason other than nostalgia, it may deliver as a lobotomized Happy Meal of a movie. For everyone else who actually likes to care about what's happening on the screen in front of them, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a lot of senseless filler sandwiched in and around one impressive action set-piece. Fast-forward to the midpoint of 110 minutes and you have a muscular, spectacularly choreographed sequence set in the Himalayas, where zip-lining ninjas Snake Eyes and Jinx try transporting Storm Shadow's enclosed body while fending off other ninjas on a mountain. It's over in about five minutes, ending with an avalanche, and nothing else ever tops it, "uncanny valley" be damned.
Let's just say nobody is here to challenge themselves artistically. Tatum checks out early (spoiler alert!), and he's better for it, considering he's been off making better projects worthy of his magnetism and now-tested skills as an actor. At least he gets to share likable buddy-comedy rapport in the early going with Johnson, who's been called in lately to reinvigorate franchises. He can do this sort of beefcake action-hero thing in his sleep by perspiring in tight T-shirts and sweating charisma. As newbie Joes, Cotrona shows as much personality as a daytime soap actor and Palicki is a gorgeous specimen. Pryce hams it up as the evil clone of POTUS, as does Walton Goggins as an underground prison warden. There's also time for RZA to show up as "Blind Master," once again proving he should really stick to hip hop. Finally, Bruce Willis was most likely driven by a big, fat paycheck but throws in some cheeky wisecracks as the Original Joe, General Colton, a retired soldier who gets re-enlisted.
Aside from the Himalayas-set sequence, the action is competent but distressingly lacking in excitement and ingenuity. The flashes of cute, knowing humor are few and far between. The only real interest—and unintentional amusement—is in how Lady Jaye deducts that the Commander in Chief is an impostor from the ways he used to clasp his hands to now and his vernacular use of "supper" over "dinner" and "pop" over "soda." On balance, this mindless folly is unequivocally critic-proof; you already know whether or not this is your cup of java. If you enjoyed banging together your dolls—er, action figures as a kid, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" bangs your head around all right, but it's much less fun.
Grade: C -