Back in 2009, Hasbro followed its "Transformers" hits with another toy-based, hoo-ra extravaganza, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." It was a junky, guilty pleasure, starring a cusp-of-fame Channing Tatum as team leader Duke, and the whole thing had the energy of a young recruit: eager to please, game for anything, immune to embarrassment.
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation," however, is the opposite. This botched sequel feels like a shell-shock victim: flailing, screaming, inept and utterly incoherent.
That's a shame, since the franchise promised some B-grade summer fun.
Tatum, who since 2009 has discovered his acting skills and comedic timing (or maybe we just learned to appreciate them, in movies like "21 Jump Street" and "Magic Mike"), is basically absent here, and it's a critical wound to the film. The now-rising star shows up just long enough to say goodbye to this early role, then turns things over to Dwayne Johnson as the hulking soldier Roadblock.
The always likable Johnson can't save this material, though.
The story is a disastrous mess, in which the U.S. president (Jonathan Pryce) is still a hostage, the nefarious Cobra group is plotting something nuclear, and the conflicted warrior Storm Shadow, played by the charismatic Byung-hun Lee, is still brooding about his childhood. (Look for the rapper RZA as Blind Master.)
It's impossible to keep track of the characters: Say goodbye to Destro, say hubba-hubba to new addition Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and say peek-a-boo to Bruce Willis, popping in and out as the original General Joe Colton.
Aside from an impressive rappelling chase through the Himalayas, the action scenes make almost zero sense; even most punches land far from chins.
For all the deafening noise and rather startling destruction -- all of London disappears without much ceremony -- "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" moves at a painfully slow crawl, barely dragging itself from one scene to the next.
That's certainly a problem the first movie never had.
Until further notice, consider the "G.I. Joe" franchise out on medical leave.
PLOT Chapter Two in the Hasbro franchise, with old foes and new Joes.
RATING PG-13 (violence)
BOTTOM LINE The junky pleasures of the first installment now just seem like junk in this noisy, nonsensical, lead-footed sequel.