When I was a kid, my little brother and I spent many an afternoon playing with our G.I. Joe action figures. As we got older and our behavior got a little more delinquent, we took those same G.I. Joe action figures, strapped fireworks to them, and blew them to smithereens.
What I have since learned is that sitting and watching those toys get blown to holy hell by cherry bombs was shockingly more complex and sophisticated than watching “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”
This second edition, in what is frighteningly starting to look like a franchise, stars Dwayne Johnson as a special forces soldier named Roadblock, who finds himself on the run with two incredibly attractive, painfully bland compatriots (D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki), and a dude who wears a mask and has no lines (Ray Park).
Bad things are set in motion by a ludicrous global conspiracy involving an impostor president (Jonathan Pryce, who seems to be the only person having any fun here) and some sort of death satellites.
When events reach a point of desperation, our heroes seek out Bruce Willis, who delivers a few wry line readings, shoots a couple of guns, and happily collects his paycheck.
Really, this entire cast is about as lifelike as plastic figurines. The only spark to be found anywhere in this movie comes from tiny supporting turns by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA as a blind kung-fu master, and Walton Goggins as the warden of an implausible super-villain, a maximum-security prison.
In fact, I spent most of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” wishing I was watching a movie where Blind Master RZA and Warden Walton Goggins open up a detective agency together.
This movie was directed by Jon M. Chu, who is probably best known for helming a couple of “Step Up” sequels and a Justin Bieber concert film. I don’t have a lot to say about Chu’s directing other than that he made me long for the evenhanded subtlety of Michael Bay.
Let’s set aside for a moment that “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a terrible movie made of up thinly connected, bloated, effects-driven action sequences, and focus on the fact that this film wasn’t really made for an American audience.
We have entered a brave new world of moviemaking where international box-office receipts are outpacing the domestic market. Movies are now being made to appeal to as broad an audience as is humanly possible, which means whittling out anything that could be lost in translation between cultures and languages.
Basically, the lowest common denominator somehow actually managed to go lower and now the simpler and more action-driven you can make your movie the better.
“How will it play in Peoria?” has been replaced by “How will it play in Belarus?” With that in mind, we can expect a whole lot more “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” clones to come down the pike.
This is not to say that movies this bad have never existed before, it’s just that now there is a legitimate financial incentive to make them this bad.
Now, I’m not going to start carrying the doomsday placard for cinematic good taste; that has been dead ever since humans started putting images on film.
But what I am saying is that as long as there is money to be made overseas, our global village is going to have to endure some really lousy movies.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.