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By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Anybody confused about the difference between action figures and actual movie characters need only watch a bit of G.I. Joe: Retaliation for a vivid demonstration.

Because that’s what the actors are saddled with in this childishly simplistic action thriller for the young.

The second “G.I. Joe” flick, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a followup to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, another science fiction-ish actioner that, like its predecessor, is based on Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe” toy, cartoon, comic, and media franchises.

Now you might jump to the conclusion that a movie based on a kids’ toy would be a loss-leader afterthought or a feature-length commercial.  And you would be dead-on.

(1½ stars out of 4)

(1½ stars out of 4)

Some movies sell movie tickets, some sell toys. This one is in the latter category.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a one-dimensional thriller aimed at a young, undiscriminating audience who don’t demand much in the way of narrative or characterization complexity.

But we still have a movie about super-soldiers to describe, one that picks up where its predecessor left off.

The Cobra Commander, shape-shifting master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), still on a quest for world domination, impersonates the US president (Jonathan Pryce) and, looking to trigger World War III, frames the Channing Tatum- and Dwayne Johnson-led elite soldiers known as “G.I. Joes” for the assassination of Pakistan’s president, labeling them traitors and ordering an attack against them.

Then he aims the country’s advanced warheads at nations around the globe, thus succeeding in getting the world’s leaders under his control.

So the surviving members of the Joes devise a plan under the supervision of the original G.I. Joe general Joseph Colton (played by new-to-the-franchise Bruce Willis) to overthrow the Cobra Commander and his allies -– Zartan, Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun), and Firefly (Ray Stevenson).

Tatum returns in the role of Duke, which he created before he was a major star, while Johnson climbs aboard as Roadblock, coming to the marquee-stuffing help of the franchise just as he did to the “Fast and the Furious” franchise when he joined the ensemble cast of the sequel, Fast Five.

And this is, despite the presence of Tatum and Willis, Johnson’s movie, one in which he’s better than the script deserves.

The director, Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D), steps up and stages CGI-enhanced wall-to-wall action — choreographing the action with the skill of someone who has directed two dance flicks — and not worrying too much about the world’s thinnest, what’s-the-difference plot.

But the director still takes this material too seriously and his glamorization of guns and rifles is a form of automatic-weapon porn.

The blowin’-stuff-up-and-shootin’-guys-down script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is a kid’s playing-with-action-figures fantasy, nothing more.  And something less.

But parents may be interested to know that the considerable amount of violence throughout the PG-13-rated feature is constant but relatively bloodless.

Now, to be fair, one question any critic must consider about a movie aimed at the young is: what would the 13-year-old version of me have thought?  And the answer is: I wouldn’t have thought, I just would have soaked it in. And maybe even enjoyed it.  But even then I hope I would have yearned for more interesting characters.

Anyway, we’ll beat up, shoot up, blow up, and shut up 1½ stars out of 4 for G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Think of “G.I.” as standing for Godawfully Inane, and the rating as my retaliation.

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