FRESH POUR: GI Joe Retaliation (2013) / The Host (2013)

Clint takes a look at two new releases that come out each week – no rules, no cocktail, just a short look at what’s being released in theaters.

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G.I Joe Retaliation (2013) / dir. John M. Chu / Paramount Pictures

I’m not gonna lie: I had high hopes for GI Joe Retaliation. The Rock coming in to star? Great! A partial reset of the shiny CGI cartoon that was the first? Sure thing! The director of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D? Well…okay, but the trailer looks decent. Perhaps my expectations (suspended for a year as the film underwent reshoots and a 3D conversion) were unreasonably high, but I wanted at least a decent action flick out of Retaliation. However, even those meager hopes were dashed in a haze of half-scripted nonsense, tonal confusion and poorly edited spectacle that left me wondering what the hell went on by the end.

The impossibly convoluted, yet confusingly simplistic plot is as follows: after a padded-out intro establishing the Joes (led by Channing Tatum and The Rock, the two engaging in decently entertaining banter meant to pad out the recently-impressive Tatum’s early role in the film), the team is betrayed and Tatum killed off by Zartan, a face-shifting villain impersonating the President (a hammy Jonathan Pryce, providing the best performance in the film bar none) who wants to free his boss, the masked Cobra Commander, for various world-ending and nefarious reasons. Meanwhile, mute ninja Snake Eyes must track down his nemesis Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun, one of my favorite Korean actors, wasted here except for his glorious upper body) whose allegiances are fluid at best. Oh yeah, and Bruce Willis reads cue cards for a few minutes near the end of the film – seriously, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen most of the scenes he’s in.

Where do I even begin with this movie? The editing is all over the place in this movie, and is likely one of the film’s biggest flaws. From the inciting incident until the lead-up to the climax in the film, two tonally dissonant movies happen – first, there’s Dwayne Johnson and friends working underground to undo Cobra, mixing Call of Duty antics with a little Mission: Impossible; secondly, there’s mute Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his effectively-as-mute sidekick Jynx, who are shoved into a separate storyline whose establishment and execution gives you whiplash. Mouse (Tim from Jurassic Park, all growed up; also, why does every team in science fiction have to have a “kid of the team” named Mouse, who is the first to die?) spends his one prominent scene describing a homing camera-bullet, then uses the bullet once in the following action scene. The bullet (and Mouse) are never used again. Why do we waste time in a 100-minute movie with this stuff, when important plot information is breezed over in the form of montages woodenly recited by a blind RZA?

Some scenes are just patently ridiculous: I still have no idea what was accomplished during the beginning action scene, where Roadblock sees an unknown flag on a pole and adorably almost swears before we smash cut to the title; for the climax, Bruce Willis brings in a couple of his “friends,” none of whom seem important to the plot and are just there to punch a couple unimportant guys in a couple of cutaway shots. There was NO reason for them to be there.  The movie’s treatment of female characters is also pretty troublesome; the most prominent female character, Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki), spouts progressive platitudes about joining the army to prove to her dad that women are just as good at fighting, all the while her secret power seems to be the same as Bugs Bunny’s: dress real sexy, and the bad guys will just be too entranced by her ass to resist. Even bland Flint gets in on the ogling. It’s pretty disgusting.

The final shot of the film is so ridiculous I’m chuckling writing this: The Rock, having been given Gen. Patton’s .45 handgun by Willis (to implicitly use on Cobra Commander when they find him), responds to this gesture of respect by just firing this handgun into the air. FIN. (Why did that happen? What was he shooting at? Was that part of the ceremony? Could he have hurt someone? Why was it loaded? What was that meant to signify? Questions abound – it’s just such a silly way to end the movie.)

The whole thing isn’t a complete wash: Chu, with the exception of a couple of adequately-composed action scenes (the Storm Shadow-kidnap sequence, from beginning to end, is done without dialogue due to its basically mute participants, which made it an interesting experiment at least), thrusts all of the action at you with no sense of geography or place, and the dialogue scenes (what few there are) are flatly directed. Jonathan Pryce, as mentioned before, looks like he’s having a lot of fun as well, and there are a few moments of comedy that work in a sea of moments that don’t. There are too many ludicrous moments in here, but suffice to say that GI Joe Retaliation is only a marginal step up in quality from its predecessor (which isn’t saying much).

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

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The Host / dir. Andrew Niccol/ Open Road Films

The Host comes to us from the Stephanie Meyer canon of supernatural/science fiction-themed romances; this time, the boy-meets-girl-meets boy story is given the Invasion of the Body Snatchers treatment by way of K.A. Applegate. In the future, a race of glowy caterpillars (aptly named Souls) has taken over Earth by inhabiting people’s bodies, turning them into bland drones with glowing eyes who perpetually dress like it’s Labor Day. The ridiculously-named Melanie Stryder (Saiorse Ronan, trying admirably to transcend the material), one of the few humans left, is captured and implanted with a Soul named Wanderer.

Unlike most hosts, Melanie remains alive inside her body, which Wanderer controls, and converses with her in the form of bratty voiceover. I’m sure the narrative device works better in the book; it’s easier to convey warring internal monologue in prose form than depict it on screen (as David Lynch’s Dune taught us). As it stands now, however, Melanie simply exists to act as an obnoxious devil on Wanderer’s shoulder, who nags at her alien occupant about everything under the sun, resulting in unintentional hilarity due to her flippant reactions to things. “What are you doing?! Stop?! Don’t kiss him!”

After a comparatively interesting first act where Wanderer explores Melanie’s memories and weighs her allegiances to her fellow Souls, Melanie convinces Wanderer to escape and find her uncle (an incredibly tired and sedate-even-for-him William Hurt) and family, who constitute most of the rest of the human resistance and spend their days farming and hiding in a series of caves. It is here that the movie’s pace screeches to a halt, as the remaining hour and a half of screentime is dedicated to tedious scenes of Wanderer’s trust being constantly called into question, ponderous and ultimately pointless scenes pontificating on the nature of identity, the occasional low-energy action scene, and really obnoxious and poorly-handled romance scenes. The cinematography is admirable enough, but there are only so many ways to film open dirt roads and cave walls before it gets interminably boring.

Apart from Ronan, Hurt and Diane Kruger (who tries really hard, and whose small arc constitutes the only interesting scenes in the film), the cast is rounded out entirely by bland, sandy-blond hunks who look like they stepped right out of a CW pilot. In a world where humans fight for their individuality in the face of a homogenous alien force, I find it telling that I can’t really tell the three hunks apart, whether in personality or looks. They certainly don’t bring anything to the table except for half-formed and unresolved scenes of sexual tension, where two of the hunks try for equal time with two women in the same body. (Question: if one of them were to sleep with Wanderer, would it technically be a threesome?)

Andrew Niccol, who delighted with the science-fiction thriller Gattaca, attempts a tepid rehash of some of his previous films’ themes and lo-fi portrayal of the future (which just consists of everything being blandly labeled in Helvetica, and the Seekers – alien bad guys – decking out their designer cars and traffic helicopters in solid chrome), and it really doesn’t work. For a story about how the end of humanity is nigh, no one really has any sense of urgency; the alien conflict is resolved far too smoothly and gradually to make it work, and one never gets the feeling that people are in danger.

What’s more, except for the basic philosophical horrors of being stripped of your humanity, the Souls don’t really seem that dangerous, since we are shown few examples of their wrath or destructive power – in fact, they seem a highly moral society. While you can explore the implications of such a society and make it work, this film most certainly does not, instead opting for junior-high histrionics that are fuzzily resolved, leaving even the most patient wanting to walk out of the theatre after the first hour.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

Check in next week when Clint hopefully has a better time with the remake of Evil Dead and the Danny Boyle thriller Trance!

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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