What happens when the bad guys are more fun than the good guys? When a movie about action figures plays joyfully with the villains while trapping the heroes in army-man molds? “G.I. Joe Retaliation” attempts to answer these questions in soporific fashion. Literally, people fell asleep.

G.I. Joe Retaliation

D+
Paramount
At Quality 16 and Rave


“Retaliation” creates a world where the Joes take on North Koreans, Pakistani terrorists, ninjas and cartoon character-like bad guys — all while looking and acting like a copy of Seal Team Six. Mish-mashing these elements of the real with elements of the absurd doesn’t work; it feels wrong that American Heroes with names like Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint unload buckets of bullets into the bodies of insurgents. Shouldn’t they be firing lasers at hover tanks as Cobra Commander screams a “Curse you, G.I. Joe!!!” from his escape pod?

The plot presents nothing one wouldn’t already expect through watching the trailer, and it’s messily constructed beyond its banality: The president (Jonathan Pryce, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) has been replaced by an evil president working for Cobra. The evil president acts normal while apparently easily taking over pretty much every aspect of the U.S. government. Switching out members of the Secret Service for Cobra operatives is apparently super normal and not at all suspicious. After this, evil president terminates the Joes — post-framing them as traitors. Some Joes survive. They want to save the world. There’s an arc with ninjas and RZA (hamming up a Blind Master role).

The problem isn’t that the plot is boring, because almost every action movie necessarily has a dumb, overblown narrative; the real issue is that the characters aren’t compelling enough to warrant an ounce of caring. Only the bad guys possess the zaniness that one expects from such a naturally zany franchise. Even the charming Dwayne Johnson (“Fast Five”) hardly shows up — he smiles and seems to be having a good time, but ultimately, Johnson (as Roadblock) is just a strong guy in Kevlar and Under Armour. The other main Joes, Flint (D.J. Cotrona, “Dear John”) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, “Legion”), are worse — simply chiseled jaws and nice bodies with no emotional or even quirky skillset to latch onto (like, how hard is it to say, “She’s the cool-ass sniper. And he’s the awesome explosive expert.” At least that gives us a paper-thin character as opposed to nothing at all!).

“Retaliation” does hit the mark with the bad guys. Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, “Monte Carlo”) hisses and menaces nicely, while looking ridiculous. Firefly (Ray Stevenson, “Thor”) drawls out stupid lines and tosses explosive (you guessed it) fireflies, while looking ridiculous. Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun, “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”) simply rules, while looking awesome. Shadow actually rides a little narrative about revenge and redemption, and well … he’s a friggin’ ninja. It also helps that Lee can actually act (see his Korean films; they rule).

“G.I. Joe Retaliation” will find its place on Sunday afternoon TNT movie marathons, and if you’ve just ate an excessive amount of Chinese food, and the birds are chirping lightly with glimmers of sunlight hitting your couch, you might consider napping with it in the background. Weirdly, falling asleep to the sound of inconsequential bullets and a yelling The Rock comforts, and at least you might think, “Retaliation” has done some good.

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