Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Series based on Hasbro action figures has plenty of testosterone, but not a lot of dramatic muscle

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Two ninjas face off in a corridor.

The bad ninja, dressed in white, throws deadly ninja stars at the good ninja, dressed in black.

Fortunately, the good ninja is carrying an automatic Uzi-like pistol. He shoots each of the deadly stars right out of the air with awesome precision.

Here's the question: Given that the black ninja is shooting bullets directly towards the guy who threw the ninja stars in the first place, isn't there a remote possibility that one of those bullets would hit the white ninja? Isn't said white ninja directly in the line of fire of the throwing stars? Shouldn't he take at least one serious wound?

Yeah, I know, it's best not to watch the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation with any concern for the fundamentals of physical reality. Befitting a movie co-produced by the toy company Hasbro, Retaliation casts human actors as plastic action figures and accordingly whips 'em around through various tableaux like a hyperactive tot.

Later, when the black ninja is fighting off a squadron of the white ninja's henchmen on the side of a mountain, one imagines the whole sequence was plotted out using G.I. Joe dolls on the back of someone's couch.

Director and presumed couch owner Jon M. Chu (who choreographed more dance-oriented mayhem in a couple of Step Up movies) takes over the franchise from Stephen Sommers, who helmed the 2009 entry The Rise of Cobra. That movie's star, Channing Tatum as Duke, is only seen briefly in this movie. The guy has been working for Steven Soderbergh lately, and evidently felt it was time to move on. Good move.

Dwayne Johnson, an actor who has already been immortalized as a plastic action figure in his wrestling persona The Rock, is better suited to play the lead here in the role of an ace soldier called Roadblock. He's a likable screen presence, but as the movie Snitch recently proved, it's difficult to take him seriously.

On a mission to steal nuclear warheads from Pakistan, the entire G.I. Joe unit is betrayed and mostly wiped out on the orders of the president (Jonathan Pryce). If you saw the last movie, you know that the prez is actually Zartan, a master of disguise working for the sinister organization Cobra.

Surviving "Joes" Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, who appears to be partly plastic already) are obliged to head to the U.S. to join forces with silent masked ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) to expose the fraudulent president before he carries out Cobra's mission of world domination.

Along the way, Snake Eyes is forced to a reckoning with his mortal enemy Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), which allows a bit of martial arts action between segments of stuff blowing up real good.

But even in 3D and Imax formats, this movie isn't as impressive as it thinks it is. The action just feels progressively more ludicrous as it goes on. World-domination scenario notwithstanding, it's all kind of alienating and irritating and trite, like the James Bond franchise missed the Sean Connery years and skipped directly to Roger Moore.

Willis's presence in all this is especially annoying. Expendables 2, A Good Day to Die Hard, and now this?

Not since Elvis has a one-time icon squandered his name on so many undeserving, bad movies.

Other voices

Excerpts of select reviews of G.I. Joe: Retaliation:

At times, G.I. Joe: Retaliation has a sense of its own ridiculousness -- Pryce seems to be having a good time, anyway -- but not enough to soften the mass death, hardware fetishism and militaristic zeal that gets in the way of its escapist fun. Adaptations of children's toy lines apparently need to be treated with the utmost seriousness.

-- Scott Tobias, The AV Club

We are left with about a zillion individual plot lines to follow as the movie bounces from one global hot spot to another. There are countless characters -- old and new -- to keep up with. Grudges -- also old and new -- pile up by the truckloads. Bullets rain down. High-tech gizmos abound. Freedom and the fate of the entire world, of course, hang in the balance. It's massive, all the retaliation and the world-saving stuff. And it's convoluted. Frankly no one should have to think that hard to keep up with the Joes.

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

That's not to say that this G.I. Joe is good, aside from a couple of dazzling action set pieces, but at least it's efficient in its muscular mindlessness.

-- Christy Lemire, The Associated Press

The first one was a G.I. joke, but the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation has enough hoo-ah to bring a satisfying blast of blockbustery summer to dreary March.

-- Kyle Smith, New York Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 G1

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