Weekender

‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ as lifeless as an action figure

Franchise reboots are multiplying at an alarming rate. No longer do filmmakers wait a decade or two for the memory of the last failure to fade.

Take, for example, the 2009 “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” which transformed toy soldiers into Channing Tatum and Dennis Quaid. It was annihilated by critics but performed well at the box office, which means “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is being billed as a reboot. Except it’s not.

There’s a new director, Jon Chu — the man behind a couple “Step Up” installments and the Justin Bieber documentary — and “Zombieland” writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick signed on. But rather than wiping the slate clean, the filmmakers integrate elements from the last film.

As the movie opens, Tatum’s character, Duke, leads his team to Pakistan on what turns out to be a suicide mission ordered by the fake president. But this villain underestimates the Joes, and a few survive, including the new de facto commander, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson). Now the target of the U.S. government, the group has to go off the grid to investigate. All the nefarious threads lead to their archenemy, Cobra Commander, who seeks total world domination. The heroes’ scheming includes tracking down the original G.I. Joe, now a curmudgeonly general played by Bruce Willis.

Total world domination? RZA as a blind ninja expert? Willis as the cocky grizzled risk-taker — again? While this all sounds utterly hilarious, the film’s comedic intentions remain cloudy. For all its absurdity, the movie takes itself awfully seriously. Yes, the goofy one-liners are there, but so are the earnest back stories about making it against all odds.

If “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” taught us one thing, it’s that box office returns have more to do with franchise names than quality. People may flock to “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” despite its inert illogicality. But don’t say you weren’t warned: “Knowing is half the battle.”

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