Movie review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

05:00 AM, Mar 29, 2013

Channing Tatum, left, and Dwayne Johnson star in 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation.' (Jaimie Trueblood/AP)/

Written By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett Chief Film Critic

Ever played a video game with a friend and had to sit there while he hogged it, leaving you to do nothing but watch for what seemed like hours?

On he goes, blowing things up and randomly wreaking havoc. While it can be interesting in bits and pieces (pun intended), you’re never really invested in the outcome. The overall effect is one of boredom coupled with wasted time.

That’s what watching G.I. Joe: Retaliation is like. Director Jon M. Chu has the controls in hand and we sit idly by, watching explosions and seemingly endless fight scenes. To keep things moving he doesn’t waste our time with things like sensible plot direction or character development (this is a movie franchise based on toy action figures, after all). But man, after a while, what a slog.

In the film the G.I. Joes are, for those who didn’t see the 2009 original, an elite team of soldiers. (For those of us of a certain age, they were also plastic action figures, the same size as Barbie and ideal Barbie husband material, until Hasbro shrank them down. Ken? Ha.)

They’re led by Duke (Channing Tatum), who sports the scar on his cheek that G.I. Joe collectors will recognize. Tatum’s a good actor, but here he seems to be channeling the plastic toy soldiers, only if they were made of wood. His team includes Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), a wisecracking tough guy (imagine), Lady Jaye (Adrieanne Palicki), Flint (D. J. Cotrona), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Young).

At one point they visit Gen. Joe Colton, “the reason we call ourselves Joes,” Roadblock explains, played with a notable lack of energy by Bruce Willis. (To be fair, he is retired.)

Without giving too much of the “plot” away, it’s probably OK to say that the Joes, as they’re called, find themselves on the outs with the government, as well as the president (Jonathan Pryce), who has been behaving strangely of late. Not himself, you might say.

The Cobra villains, led by Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), are causing trouble again. The Joes must thwart a threat to the world instigated by Cobra, because that’s what heroes do in movies like this, even though everyone thinks they’ve gone rogue. How the citizenry reacts to this news is never actually shown. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick do that a lot, actually. Instead of working out what could be a thorny plot problem, they just skip ahead to the next thing. And why not? Another fight scene awaits.

One in particular is pretty spectacular, involving ninja sword battles in the Himalayas, with the participants swinging around on cords as they duke it out. It’s dizzying fun but, alas, you can’t fly that high forever. Soon enough the action is brought down to earth.

Johnson is good with a quip and a gun, which is what’s called for here. Everyone else is pretty interchangeable, with the exception of Pryce, who is the best thing about the movie. More than anyone else, even Johnson, he seems to be having fun with his role; a line about taxes is laugh-out-loud funny. You know, funny on purpose. Not every funny thing about the movie is.

Dumb fun can be, well, fun. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is way too much of the former, and not nearly enough of the latter.