FS, Contributing Writer
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”
The dismal 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, based on the venerable lines of action figures and comics, has spawned a sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation (wide release), which isn’t quite as bad as its predecessors but is still pretty terrible.
Dwayne Johnson takes over as leader of the elite fighting force—SEALs on steroids—when Channing Tatum, their former head, is killed in an ambush that’s part of a plot by Cobra to take over the planet. That scheme involves replacing the U.S. president with a double (both played by Jonathan Pryce, whose English accent pops out occasionally). It also includes a secret satellite weapon that can destroy entire cities at the push of a button. (All of London bites the dust in the movie’s money shot.)
Needless to say, Johnson and his few remaining cohorts—who include smirking Bruce Willis as the retired general who created the Joes—save the day, and the world with it.
Gun fetishists will love Retaliation for all the cutting-edge weaponry on display. Most others will find the movie, converted into drab 3-D, little more than a mediocre live-action comic book.
“The Place Beyond the Pines”
Derek Cianfrance, who made the superb Blue Valentine, reunites with Ryan Gosling for The Place Beyond the Pines (Magnolia), an ambitious, sprawling multi-generation epic that runs out of gas faster than the motorcycle Gosling rides in its first act.
As Luke, a stunt cyclist, Gosling uses his skill on the pavement to rob banks in order to support the infant son he’s just learned he’d fathered. One of his heists goes bad, however, and he’s shot and killed by rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper).
In the second act, Avery adds to his celebrity by exposing a gang of corrupt cops. And in the third, set 15 years later, his truculent teen son meets up with Luke’s orphaned boy in a friendship destined to lead to unhappy revelations and thoughts of revenge.
The Place Beyond the Pines deals with big issues—the relationships between fathers and sons and the grim reality of fate. But it treats them so schematically that it ultimately feels contrived and shallow. The result is a film of laudable ambition, but one whose reach exceeds its grasp.
Sam Raimi’s 1981 film mingled horror tropes and slapstick in a way that earned it classic status, but Fede Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead (wide release) eschews the humor and proves deadly serious in every respect.
Once again a group of college students repairs to an isolated cabin, where a book of incantations releases a force that possesses the students and turns them into savage killers.
Much gore and bloodletting follow, done up in the most stomach-churning ways modern movie magic can devise. If you enjoy watching a fellow pull a hypodermic needle from the spot just under his eye, or nails from his arms, or if the sight of a woman cutting off her own arm with a saw is a source of pleasure, this is the movie for you.
But without Raimi’s sense of humor, the new Evil Dead is just too much like all the other slice-and-dice fare out there to matter much except to genre fanatics.
In an effort to match the success of the Twilight franchise, writer-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) has brought to the screen Stephanie Meyer’s sci-fi novel The Host (wide release), about aliens who take over human bodies in order to perfect earth’s society.
Some people resist, of course, and it’s only the coexistence within a single girl of her original personality and a wise alien presence that makes détente between the species possible. Naturally, the heroine’s two sides are loved by different young men, a triangle that’s more like a square.
The Host has some interesting ideas, but it’s ruined by the silly romantic subplot and by Niccol’s flaccid pacing, which tries to add profundity to what’s no more than a pulpy Body Snatchers ripoff—and causes the cast members to recite the dialogue as if they were reading it phonetically.