Sunday, April 7, 2013
The sequel “G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” (**1/2 out of ****) scraps half of everything in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra.” Basically, if you missed the first “Joe,” then this splendid looking sequel may not make a whole lot of sense, particularly the Presidential hostage scenes. Unless you’ve seen “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra,” you won’t know Zartan had been tweaking his impersonation of the U.S. President. Despite a sturdy cast and stupendous production values, this futuristic actioneer could have retained several elements that made its predecessor entertaining. The first mistake Paramount and Hasbro made was eliminating everybody but Zartan, the President, and Storm Shadow. Ripcord, General Hawk, Scarlett, Ana, and Destro are A.W.O.L. Well, Destro has a cameo, but we never get a glimpse of him or Christopher Eccleston. Arnold Voslow appears briefly as Zartan, but you could miss him if you blinked your eyes. When the sequel isn’t sacrificing top tier cast members, it is rewriting the first film and rehabilitating a villain. Not only is Storm Shadow no longer wicked, but we also learn he had been framed in the first film.
Meantime, “Step Up 3-D” director Jon M. Chu and “Zombieland” scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick introduce several new characters, including Dwayne Johnson as a massive sergeant major, Adrianne Palicki as sexy Lady Jaye, D.J. Cotrona, and Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton. Presumably, the producers brought Bruce Willis on board to beef up things, but he shows up for only a handful of scenes. When he enters combat, he doesn't even have to duck bullets. Bruce takes our heroes on a tour of his armory-like residence, rides in the back of an El Camino with an assault rifle, and later passes out medals. As a character nicknamed ‘Roadblock,’ Dwayne Johnson saves the day after Channing Tatum makes an early departure about a half-hour into the melee. Chu and his scenarists must have seen “The Expendables 2” because “G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” strikes me more about revenge rather than retaliation. Other things missing are the outlandish Delta 6 accelerator suits that our heroes donned for the Paris sequence of “G.I. Joe” and those nasty nanomites that gnaw through armor as if it were candy. As comely as both Adrianne Palicki and Elodie Yung are, they’re no match for Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols. The second “Joe” comes up light on villains, too. Nobody here can compete with either Christopher Eccleston or Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” picks up where the first film concluded. The villainous Zartan has completed his masquerade as the President and has managed to fool everybody. Next, he sets out to locate Cobra Commander. As it turns out, Cobra Commander and Destro are imprisoned in a European poky at the bottom of an old East German mine shaft. Warden Nigel James (Walton Goggins) provides Storm Shadow with an expository laden tour of his maximum security facility when he arrives with an escort. Meantime, the President dispatches Captain Duke Hauser (Channing Tatum of “Magic Mike”) and the G.I. Joes on a secret mission to Pakistan to retrieve some nukes. Initially, our heroes encounter little difficulty and wind up in the Hindus Valley waiting for an extraction team. Suddenly, the worse thing imaginable happens. They are blown to smithereens by their own people. The President (Jonathan Pryce) orders their deaths because he is in reality Zartan. Meantime, Zartan appears on national television and reveals that the G.I. Joes tried to appropriate the atomic bomb for their own use. Fortunately, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson of “Snitch”), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki of “Red Dawn”), and Flint (D. J. Controna of “Dear John”) survive the sneak attack. Actually, Duke saved Flint but died in the process. The three hide in a convenient well when the mop-up crew arrive. As usual, the villains are too lazy to mop up well enough. They check out the well and fire a couple of shots into it that miss all three crouching just below the surface. A hand grenade would have done nicely, but the heroes have to survive. This is the first mistake that Reese and Wernick made when they let the heroes off too easily. The trio make it back to America and establish a secret base with the help of one of Roadblock’s old ghetto friends.
Eventually, our discredited heroes contact retired U.S. General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis of “Die Hard”) who was one of the original Joes. Colton furnishes them with an incredible arsenal and agrees to join them. You can tell this scene was lensed before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting because it made the final cut. Colton leads our heroes on a tour of his residence. Every drawer and cabinet conceals automatic pistols and assault weapons. While Roadblock and company are acquiring weapons, Snake Eyes (Ray Park of “X-Men”) and Jinx (Elodie Yung of “District 13: Ultimatum”) are on the other side of the world. They are scaling the Himalayas mountain to nab Storm Shadow where he is recuperating in a temple. Storm suffered horrible burns on the back when an ex-Joe (Ray Stevenson of “Punisher: War Zone”) rescued both Cobra Commander and he from the prison. Chu stages the mountain side scene with ninjas tangling on the slopes with some finesse.
Paramount Pictures shelved “G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” for a year to add 3-D. I’ve seen both versions, and the 2-D surpasses the 3-D. Furthermore, the 3-D contributes nothing to the action because—like most 3-D movies now-- nothing flies at you. Polished production values, top-notch cinematography, and first-class CGI work, except in Bruce Willis’ El Camino scene, distinguish this complicated combat caper with too many characters. The finale with our heroes struggling to prevent the Zeus satellites from destroying Earth generates a palatable amount of suspense. Of course, Cobra Commander eludes everybody, and General Joe hands Roadblock one of General Patton’s pistols to bring him back.
The harrowing imagery alone makes the “Evil Dead” (*** OUT OF ****) remake worth the price of admission. “Spider-Man” helmer Sam Raimi directed the original “Evil Dead” back in 1981. He swirled horror with humor in a low-budget scream-fest with a no-name cast. Despite its crappy special effects, this supernatural splatter-spoof ranks as a cult favorite among gorehounds. Raimi went on to direct two sequels, and Bruce Campbell attained the status of B-movie hero. The skewered cinematography, atmospheric settings, and maniacal urgency made this contrived 85 minute nonsense unforgettable. Comparatively, in his directorial debut, writer & director Fede Alvarez, abetted by co-scenarists Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody, has preserved the premise of the Raimi classic. Nevertheless, he has shunned Raimi’s ghoulish but campy approach. Moreover, the Uruguayan native has ramped up the gore far more than Raimi dared. In fact, Alvarez has knocked the bottom out with some elaborately orchestrated carnage that makes the “Saw” movies look tame. One scene depicts a girl mutilating her arm with an electric carving knife. The MPAA must have felt in a charitable mood when they gave “Evil Dead” an R-rating “for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language.” The visual CGI effects are designed to make you regurgitate. Make no mistake; Alvarez has conjured up one hellacious nightmare of a movie. One of the girls acts as if she were auditioning for “The Ring” (1998) rather than “The Evil Dead.” She crawls around on her hands with her hair in her eyes and blood and gore all over her body. Indeed, the isolated cabin-in-the-woods plot provides an excuse for ample mutilation, rampant dismemberment, and buckets of blood. Unlike the original, Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” doesn’t duplicate the bucolic rape of one of the girls. Alvarez doesn’t plunge the bole of a tree between her thighs as Raimi did in the original. Instead, Alvarez has a sinister witch cough up a skein of black licorice that crawls up and into the struggling girl’s mouth.
In the 1981 original “Evil Dead,” five Michigan State college students cruised up to a ramshackle cabin in the middle of nowhere to enjoy Spring Break. They discover a tape recording and a book fashioned from human flesh in the basement. One of them recites passages aloud from the forbidden text. The combination of the Book of the Dead being opened and its incantations being uttered summons evil. Predictably, all Hell breaks loose. The big change in the remake is Alvarez provides an incendiary prologue. Two men manhandle a girl into a basement and lash her to a post. The girl’s father incinerates her while a crone mutters incantations from the same Book of the Dead. As an opening gambit, this torture scene prepares us for the pandemonium that ensues. Level-headed college students made up the original “Evil Dead” group. The remake deploys a group of friends rehabilitating one of their own. Mia (Jane Levy of “Fun Size”) has a monkey on her back in the form of heroin. After spending several years apart from each other, she is reunited with her older brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez of “Red”), who knows nothing about her addiction. The two share some bad memories. Namely, David left Mia to contend with their dying, mentally distraught mom. Not only is Mia a heroin junkie, but also this isn’t the first time she has tried to conquer her craving. As Olivia (Jessica Lucas of “Clovefield”) informs David, she and her friends don’t intend to let Mia bail out of the treatment. For the record, David is the vague equivalent of Ash (Bruce Campbell) from the original. Alvarez has given all the characters different names. This time around, Olivia and company plan to keep Mia isolated in the woods while she endures a cold-turkey withdrawal. No sooner has this been said and done than Olivia’s bespectacled boyfriend, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci of “Fanboys”), finds the Book of the Dead, made from human flesh, scrawled in blood, and bound by barbed wire. Foolishly, Eric reads aloud from this tome. Meantime, Mia stumbles outside into the woods. Suddenly, vines, branches, and roots trap poor Mia in the underbrush and hold her captive for an evil witch. This lesbian witch spews profanity from her vile, wretched lips, and a licorice like skein of black sludge slithers up into Mia’s mouth. At this point, “Evil Dead” leaves mild behind and turns heavy-duty.
Alvarez wallows his cast in blood, gore, and more. You know when you see a battery powered nail gun that somebody is going to use it on somebody else. Before things get really gory, a poor old pooch is slaughtered, but canine’s death is staged off-screen. Everybody suffers horribly in “Evil Dead,” and nobody truly escapes without either sacrificing a body part or donating enough blood to revive a corpse. The most iconic scene in this savage saga occurs near the end. A one-armed, demon-possessed character gives another demon- possessed character a lobotomy courtesy of a chainsaw through the mouth. Essentially, “Evil Dead” lives up to its title with oodles of evil and death. Further, Alvarez takes his subject matter seriously enough that you could suffer nightmares from his over-the-top depiction of malevolence. Of course, we don’t give a hoot who gets what in the end. The characters qualify as one-dimensional victims. “Evil Dead” spends most of its time trying to gross us out with its graphic detail. If you’re squeamish, you should shun this remake with its bad night in the emergency room blood and gore. As remakes go, “Evil Dead” tops the original in terms of its polished production values, but its authentic looking gore doesn’t surpass its predecessor’s sense of humor. While the characters have more to occupy themselves with in the remake, nobody generates the charisma that Bruce Campbell did the original. Incidentally, if you sit through the end credits, you will see Bruce make a cameo.