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G.I. Joe Retaliation is nothing more than Saturday morning cartoon storytelling, but at least it’s more entertaining than the other action offerings so far this year.

G.I. Junk

A bunch of Joes
A bunch of Joes

Last week Washington D.C. was under siege by a group of North Korean terrorists. This week, poor Olympus has been invaded by cobras. More precisely, D.C.’s been overtaken by Cobra, the vile organization that is the bane of America’s elite military force. No, not Navy SEALs. We’re talkin’ big league American heroes, the G.I. Joes.

Retaliation picks up where G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra left off. Yeah, unfortunately it helps to have seen the first one. It helps, but it’s not mandatory, particularly if masochism isn’t in your wheelhouse.

Both movies play out with a childish – not childlike – patriotism that’s all about blowin’ stuff up but good. You know, like how generations of children, mostly boys, blow stuff up but good while playing with G.I. Joe action figures.

Both movies also feature gawd awful dialogue, the kind generations of children, mostly boys, have uttered while playing with G.I. Joe action figures. It doesn’t matter if the lines are delivered by Dennis Quaid, who looked downright uncomfortable slumming it in toy land in The Rise of Cobra, or Bruce Willis, dubbed the First G.I. Joe, in this sequel. It’s the kind of bone-chilling dialogue no actor can deliver and still walk away with any dignity intact.

G.I. Dork

Much like Olympus Has Fallen, watching the cast in this G.I. Joe sequel is kind of like watching a super model date a super dork. These things happen, but not without a lot of head-scratching by those on the outside looking in. Dwayne Johnson (Fast Five), Channing Tatum (Haywire), Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), Bruce Willis (Die Hard), RZA (The Man with the Iron Fists). Krikey. Why’d they pick this?

Is Willis in particular desperate for a new franchise? The fifth Die Hard suffered a quick death at the box office last month. Somewhat ironically, Retaliation was originally supposed to be released last year. Posters were hung with care in theater lobbies, the trailer played on screens across the country. Then the movie’s collateral was pulled and its release delayed by nearly a full year, presumably to run it through a 3D conversion and maybe to do some reshoots.

As far as post-production 3D conversions go, this one doesn’t suck as badly as could be expected. But it is still sucky, to use a technical term wholly fitting within the G.I. Joe vernacular. It works best during CGI-heavy scenes, but in those moments of what pass as humanity, things get blurry in more ways than one.

G.I. Joke

As for that Saturday morning cartoon caliber storyline, it involves the U.S. president (Pryce) playing a game of nuclear football with his fellow world leaders during a summit of the Atomic 8. They all pop open their brief cases, the nuclear footballs containing nuclear launch codes, and enter into a whole new level of war games.

Of course, something’s not right with the president. As the first movie ended, there was a tease that he wasn’t who he appeared to be. The old school rubber mask trick that endeared itself to millions of Scooby-Doo fans through the ages has been replaced by a micro technology that has allowed evil to walk right on into the White House and masquerade as the president, who’s being held hostage ridiculously close by.

This world of G.I. Joe is all about storytelling of convenience. That’s how the movie manages to jump from point A to point G; there’s a randomness to the story, the kind of randomness that indicates the writers (in this case, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who co-wrote Zombieland) simply could not conceivably care less about crafting a coherent storyline that engages the brain even at the most primal, fire-starting level.

That’s how a group of Joes are ambushed in one scene, talk about the need to live off the grid as though they we dead in the next scene, approach a German base in the next scene, then appear in Washington D.C. in the next scene.

G.I. Grasshopper

This strategy of complete slop covered up by an attractive cast and other shiny objects is used repeatedly in Retaliation. Maybe the title refers to retaliation against good taste and common sense rather than retaliation in response to the revenge of the bad guy.

Back home, the trio of surviving Joes move into a ramshackle old gym where they, in the next scene, are sporting the latest computers and surveillance gadgetry. Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, Red Dawn), inexplicably comes up with the idea that maybe the president isn’t really the president. After all, in one video that’s a couple weeks old he says “soda” but a couple weeks later he calls it “pop.” Or maybe that’s vice versa. It doesn’t really matter; it’s simply stunning that this major plot point drops in with such a thud of discovery as to say the writers are CHEATING. All caps. Emphasis required. Gotta do that in moments like this.

Such moments are to be expected when the director is best known for directing one of the most important documentaries of our time, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Well, it’s important for 12 year olds, who might very well also find G.I. Joe: Retaliation equally compelling.

Grousing, griping, and all other belligerence aside, G.I. Joe: Retaliation still manages to provide a level of entertainment missing in Olympus Has Fallen and A Good Day to Die Hard. In particular is a nifty mountain rapelling/sliding/climbing sequence that adds a nice jolt of life and some unusual ingenuity to the proceedings.

Midway through, there’s a jarring shift to a Kung Fu vibe. While G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra also played off the lifelong conflict between two franchise characters, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, this one takes things to a new level with RZA cast as a blind sensei. It’s jarring in the change of tone, but it’s also oddly entertaining.

And, yeah, there’s some amusement to be had with the notion that G.I. Joe will set out to kill Cobra Commander in the not-so-inevitable third installment while brandishing one of Patton’s pearl pistols.

Patton. Now there’s a source of inspiration - and military intellect - the next installment should explore with much more earnestness.