The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 5, 2013

Benji Tunnell: Delaying for 3-D doesn't help 'G.I. Joe.'

JOPLIN, Mo. — Hollywood has developed an unhealthy lust for cashing in on the childhood memories of Generation X. It seems that there is some studio somewhere that has optioned and is developing films based on just about every toy, game or fad that my generation holds dear.

We've seen it happen multiple times to the "Transformers" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." They've co-opted "Battleship" and are working on other board game adaptations.

Which brings us to "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" (spoilers ahead; you're welcome).

When we last left the "Joe" universe -- I'm sure something happened, but it was so utterly forgettable that my brain expelled it from my skull with the velocity of a round being fired from Duke's high-powered rifle. Because some guy named Zartan from the evil group Cobra has assumed the identity of the president of the United States, I'm assuming that it has something to do with that.

Zartan's main goals are to destroy the elite fighting team of G.I. Joes, find and free Cobra Commander from captivity and destroy all nuclear weapons in order to take over the world. In probably the only uniquely original part of the movie, evil Zartan must convince the entire world to agree to nuclear disarmament so that he can seize power with his super-advanced, high-powered weapon.

Remember when you were young and you heard stories about how if you dropped a penny off of the Empire State Building it would achieve such velocity that it would break the concrete or penetrate a man's head like a bullet? It's essentially a big version of that.

But first, Zartan must eradicate the Joes, and he does so by ordering a strike against the team as they await pickup after a Middle Eastern covert operation. During this time, only Roadblock (Duane Johnson), Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) survive, by diving into a well.

Roadblock and crew must return to the U.S., which they do with relative ease considering that they are now considered dead to the world and can trust no one, since they don't yet know who betrayed them. Because they need weapons and someone to trust, they seek out General Joe Colton (the somnolent Bruce Willis), the original founder and namesake of the Joe group.

At the same time, the sub-plot shows Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) breaking out Cobra Commander by using weapons conveniently left out in the open by the warden of a super-secret underground prison. Silent ninja Snake Eyes has to track Storm Shadow down.

The script is hack and tired; the plot seemingly cobbled together to allow structure for all the battles and explosions. Had they taken a collection of the original "Joe" action figures, affixed tiny pens to their little plastic hands, thrown them in a box with some blank sheets of paper and then shaken it vigorously, I seriously doubt they would have had anything as stupid or unbelievable as the result seen on screen. Plus they would have saved budget on the scriptwriter.

The movie was famously pulled from its original release date last summer, supposedly to allow for 3-D to more fully realize the film's vision. It didn't help -- what amazed and transfixed audiences about "Avatar" now seems like an inconvenience forced upon movie-goers who have a hard time avoiding it when only two of the eight offered showtimes are in 2-D.

Oddly, for a film specifically delayed to add depth, the acting is particularly flat. Johnson continues his quest for ubiquity in the year 2013 by flexing, grunting, sweating and occupying the screen.

I'm not sure it's that bad of an idea for the artist formerly known as The Rock to surround himself with third-rate actors such as Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, as he did in the "Fast and Furious" series, but he has betrayed the promise he showed in early roles when he was first breaking through -- he seems to have given up on becoming the next great action star in exchange for being a steadily working action star.

Bruce Willis was added to this edition to up the star power. I thought he was particularly disengaged in the last "Die Hard" outing. After watching this film, I've rethought that assessment. Willis seems as though he has been nudged awake before each of his scenes and has barely wiped the sleep from his eyes.

Unless a director such as Quentin Tarantino or early-career M. Night Shaymalan gets a hold of him, I'm afraid that Willis will be content with riding out former fame until he's sharing billing with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal on whatever video-on-demand flick they can secure financing for.

Last week, I reviewed another effort in ridiculousness in "Olympus has Fallen." It was a stupid film, with a stupid plot, weak acting and iffy special effects.

But the difference between it and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" also marks what makes one so imminently watchable and the other an interminable bore: At the heart, "Olympus" is fun.

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