Best John quip: "In killing my babysitter, you've promoted yourself to new babysitter."
We watched GI Joe: Retaliation today, which turned out to be a delightfully bad movie. This movie had all the elements to succeed as a great movie: a huge production budget, well known and talented cast, and most importantly, a culturally embedded brand that had a vague cannon.
This movie had the same magical combination that allowed Pirates of the Caribbean to flourish, but this installment in the GI Joe series (much to our delight) randomly imploded under the added weight of new characters a third of the way into the movie. The movie had started strong by focusing on the friendship between the wrestler The Rock and his partner. It might seem strange, but I have quite a bit of respect for Dwayne Johnson. It was clear that between this movie and The Scorpion King that the Rock has really advanced in his acting skills. He seems to have tamed the overblown stage acting required for wrestling theater and he is now able to drawn on the same easygoing nature that John Candy or John Goodman possess that is so appealing. Dwayne and his partner Duke, played by Channing Tatum, had a really nice chemistry that made the writing seem better than it was. Sadly, Tatum's character was killed in a sudden attack and the movie's narrative took a turn for the worse.
The opening credits had summarized the events of the last movie, but suddenly the movie shifted to a subplot never before discussed. It became abundantly clear during this plot shift (which was more than borderline racist) in Asian scene that the underlying structure of the writing had dissolved into a wet, balled up tissue. There was this sudden need to flesh out the entire cast of characters was executed very poorly. The scene in which the only female GI Joe- Jayne- discusses her decision to join the military because of her deceased chauvinistic father all takes place while she is undressing in front of another Joe.
But nothing trumps the Asian sequences in lack of good taste. The put on accents, the traditional Chinese music that must play if a shot is in Asia, the poor choice of supporting cast... The Old Blind Master is played by a very young man in very terrible makeup with a very heavy American slurring accent. These scenes were clearly an effort to engage us in this feud between the ninja community, but the production value and direction was so forced it felt like someone splicing another movie in . It was at this point as well that the spatial dimensions of the movie also became permanently disjointed for the rest of the movie. It was difficult, impossible during fight scenes, to understand where anyone was in relation to each other both in scene and in location. No location names were offered. The last 30 minutes of the movie ( I know this exactly because I had an incoming call) dissolved into utter chaos. At least five separate fight scenes raged on, but I could not tell you where they were or who was fighting who.
And then there was Bruce Willis.
John and I aren't sure what the circumstances where such that Bruce Willis was in the movie, but his every appearance brought peals of laughter from both of us. Willis's entrance is reminiscent of Woody Harrelson's character in Management. Bruce Willis says his "lines", and I say that loosely because they often seemed out of conflict and inappropriate with whatever conversation was going on at the time while the rest of the cast looked genuinely confused, on auto pilot.
When the surviving Joes approach the original Joe (Willis) for help, he attacks them first.... then blandly states he knows who they are. Well, he knows all of them except Jayne, who he calls Barbara even after she declares pretty firmly that is not her name. Willis in this scene is just treats her like garbage for no apparent payout or reason. I mean, she is an elite warrior in a group named after him. That should mean she is amazing right? Later, in what really feels like an attempt to right the sins of that scene so audiences don't go home thinking Willis is jerk, the end features a moment in when the Willis is rewarding the Joes with medals and he calls her by her full name. He then explains that he fought with her father and reassures her that her father would be proud.
We were also very delighted by his house in the movie, which stuffed to the gill with deadly weapons (grenades in the fruit bowl!), and both expressed the hope that it really was his home and he just invited them to a single day shooting of shooting one takes, and they were forced to edit the best they could manage with those shots.
GI Joe: Retaliation is a pretty great terrible movie in the Frankenstein category. Just as soon as you think you have it figured out- it gets more perplexing because the pieces don't match. Elements like the movie's showing no blood (a testament to the cartoon?) and Duke is killed by bomb but his corpse looks like he died in his sleep start the movie but by the end of the movie you see the usual bloody, mangled corpses. This disunity keeps it very amusing till about the last 30 minutes when it is just shooting and running and jumping from one unknown location to the next, but that is a minor sin. Honestly- the cast really held the turkey together- John mentioned many of them are now in Agents of Shield (which he says is pretty good).