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Sunday, March 31, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Movie Review


It's no secret that the goal of Hasbro, owner of the venerable G.I. Joe empire, is to sell toys. The original 12" dolls (excuse me, "action figures") did reasonably well (who could forget the "Kung-Fu Grip"?) but it wasn't until the 3-3/4" versions hit the market in the early 80s, accompanied by innumerable accessories, vehicles and playsets, that the brand became ubiquitous, thanks in no small part to the supporting animated TV-series. Hoping that lightning will strike twice, Hasbro has upgraded their marketing model to include feature films that peddle their wares. All of this is a perfectly accepted and expected Hollywood manifestation of capitalism (G.I. Joe defends the American way, after all), except that someone missed a very important part: In order to sell the toys, the movie should be, at minimum, watchable.


"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" may be the laziest commercial-cum-blockbuster to hit the theaters since Freddie Prinze Jr. crewed the TCS Tiger Claw. Scripted by partners Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, ("Zombieland"), this movie simply makes no sense. There's no other way to say it. It doesn't even achieve the lowest-common-denominator level of snippets of exposition stitching together action scenes. It's a bit like watching "Jumper", as might have been written by Charlie Kaufman. Any attempt to keep track of who is doing what, why and where is rendered impossible by the frequent leaps in time and place, not one of which is explained or acknowledged. And such temporally and spatially contained scenes as there are, namely the action set pieces, are handled with staggering incompetence by director Jon M. Chu, ("Justin Bieber: Never Say Never") whom one thinks would be comfortable working within the plastic action figure genre. And the only barely interesting sequence, the cliff-side sword fight, is nothing that Pete Angelus didn't innovate 25 years ago. Chu's inability to frame a scene, place a camera, avoid a cliché, or capture even the remotest essence of acting (he actually makes Dwayne ‘The Rock' Johnson a worse actor) almost seems intentional. After watching this movie, send-up master Mel Brooks himself would throw up his hands in frustration.

As to the actors, there seems to have been a race to get off the set; the laurel wreath going to staple baddie Arnold Vosloo ("The Mummy") who appears onscreen for less than 1 minute. Honorable mention to Walton Goggins ("Django Unchained"), who kept it under 3 and managed to be in one of the few interesting segments. Hell, even Channing Tatum ("21 Jump Street"), one of the top-billed stars, makes a break for it [spoiler aler...oh, who cares?] 10 minutes in. Jonathan Pryce ("Tomorrow Never Dies"), unfairly handicapped by playing a double role, manages to deliver a couple of good lines, but mostly seems too tired to actually menace. Of the few others who are stuck in the whole movie, only this can be said: Dwayne Johnson gets bigger with each movie, Bruce Willis gets more Bruce Willis-y with each movie, and poor Ray Stevenson ("Punisher: War Zone") must hang out on Hollywood Boulevard with a "Will Work For Craft Service" sign. As the most recent season of "Dexter" showed, he really deserves better.

If there is any truth and justice in the American way, Hasbro will learn that they have to raise their game significantly to move their stock off of the shelves. Everyone involved in this movie should have known better and knowing, as someone once said, is half the battle.

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