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G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a lot less fun than playing with plastic dolls

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You get the G.I. Joes for Christmas. Hooray! You make them cross the demilitarized zone near the china cabinet to rescue Barbie. pawft pawft pawft — enemy fire. Wheeeeeee boom barrrrummmmmph — you throw rocket grenades at the bad guys. You win!

New toys! Ninja Joes! You infiltrate Pakistan, right over that ridge in the backyard, and steal back the nuclear weapons from the bad guys (played by your sister’s Lord of the Rings elf dolls). Rata tata tata tata tat — machine-gun fire. Bang pow wham whoof — you make the Joes punch the elves. You win!

It’s your birthday — you get the G.I. Joe airboats. New toys! You make the Joes chase the bad guys across the puddle in that pothole in the street. Oh no! You knock over the juice boxes on the curb: Cobra Commander just destroyed London! You win this time, Cobra Commander!

“Get me the G.I. Joes,” you say, but you’re totally doing the voice of the president of the United States...

Forgive me. I’m making G.I. Joe: Retaliation sound like a helluva lot more fun than it is.

It’s nowhere near this coherent, either. Probably the most coherent moment, in fact, is when Jonathan Pryce, as the president of the United States, is required to say — without snickering — “Get me the G.I. Joes.”

We talk about “live-action cartoons,” but perhaps no movie has ever come nearer to such a state than Retaliation because no one else laughs when Pryce delivers that line. Although to be fair, this is a world in which everyone lives in fear of a supervillain who calls himself “Cobra Commander,” and yet when the president of the United States later announces that his new elite fighting force (replacing the Joes, who are on the outs) is called Cobra, no one finds this suspicious. Oh, and his Secret Service detail are all wearing Cobra lapel pins that are plainly apparent on national television. How did no one catch on that the “president” is actually another dude entirely who’s secretly wearing a Jonathan Pryce disguise and is working with Cobra Commander to try to take over the world?

Again, I’m making this sound far more entertaining and logically consistent than it is.

Retaliation purports to have been “written,” but that seems unlikely. It’s almost as if no one — up to and including the cast — actually read the “script” before they started shooting, or even while they were shooting. In one bit, nominal hero the Rock intones ominously that there’s only one person whom he and the other two remaining Joes (D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki) can trust, now that the Joes as a fighting force have been betrayed and wiped out, which could only have been ordered at the highest level. Half an hour later, the Rock is mumbling portentously about the “one person I trust,” and it’s someone else entirely. (One of them turns out to be Bruce Willis, who looks pained to be here. As well he should.)

It occurs to me that all this “someone else entirely” stuff infecting the film may be evidence of attempts at mass exodus on the part of the cast, who when they finally did read the script saw fit to make a quick escape. It could explain why Channing Tatum makes an early exit from the film, in which case we must be thankful for small favors. Retaliation may be powerfully stupid, but it could have been worse: Tatum could have been in all of it. 

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