By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer
For many moviegoers, summer is the silly season, a time for often crazy, action-laden movies that beg you not to pay too close attention to the plot and characterization. But you can wallow in just as much ludicrousness at home beginning Tuesday when G.I. Joe: Retaliation arrives.
A sequel to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the newer film has been accused of all kinds of box-office calculation. Its release to theaters was delayed for months after the studio decided to reprocess the completed production for 3-D. The casting included not only Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but also Bruce Willis, who seems happy to show up for almost any movie with gunplay these days, as well as Channing Tatum, who had been in Cobra and became a huge star after it.
While Tatum’s role in Retaliation is relatively brief, there were reports that the shooting of more Tatum footage was part of the reason for the delayed release. Director Jon M. Chu later denied that to Buzzfeed, saying an added scene with Tatum and Johnson had been shot before the delay, and was substituted for another scene because the replacement better fit the tone of the movie.
Still, underlying all those maneuvers is a silly, intermittently amusing movie enhanced by some excellent action stunts, including a mountaintop pursuit among ninjas which was especially effective in 3-D. The plot involves the return of villains from the first film, who before the movie gets very far have escaped a high-tech prison, infiltrated the White House, launched a devastating attack on the Joes (as the members of a military super-team are known) and set the world on a path toward nuclear armageddon.
What follows involves the aforementioned ninjas, battles of the musclebound (notably Johnson vs. Ray Stevenson), flying electronic bugs, rampant suspension of disbelief, Willis as the original G.I. Joe and supporting performances by Justified’s Walton Goggins (who has hammy fun) and by RZA (who does not).
At no point should you ask too many questions about the plot or demand much of the actors. Adrianne Palicki, for one, is among the Joes. Yes. Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights. More than once, in the midst of all this absurdity, I thought, “But she was in Friday Night Lights!” Of course, I had the same thought about Taylor Kitsch in both Battleship and John Carter. And Retaliation is at least more fun than those movies.
Anyway, the movie is being offered in three different packages: a standard DVD (Paramount, $29.99), a DVD/Blu-ray/digital combo ($39.99) and in a combo adding the 3-D version ($49.99). Extras with the Blu-ray packages include commentary by Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, deleted scenes and half a dozen featurettes.
Also coming to stores on Tuesday is Trance (Fox, $22.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray), the latest film from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). (Like Retaliation, it is already available as a digital download.) Since collecting glory and major box-office returns for Slumdog, Boyle has pursued a deliberately eccentric path, whether it was directing ceremonies at the London Olympics or making the unsettling trapped-man adventure 127 Hours. That James Franco film made a fraction of what Slumdog did, and Trance made a fraction of 127 Hours’ take.
Trance did receive mostly positive reviews for its tale of an art auctioneer (James McAvoy) who conspires to steal an expensive painting — only to be struck in the head during the theft, wiping out any memory of where he hid the painting. But there’s something willful about Boyle’s career course; Christopher Orr of the Atlantic said “Trance is to Danny Boyle more or less as Side Effects was to Steven Soderbergh: an arty spin on a trashy B-movie, engineered to showcase the director’s particular gifts.”
Extras include a making-of piece, deleted scenes and a look at Boyle’s body of work.
Looking ahead and behind at once, several other movies coming to DVD and Blu-ray in August are already available as downloads. They include Mud, the latest in a run of impressive performances, on disc on Aug. 6 (Lionsgate, $19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray), with extras including several making-of pieces and commentary by writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter). The movie, focusing on two boys who get involved in the plans of an odd stranger (McConaughey) trying to reconnect with his old love (Reese Witherspoon), is worth seeing in any format. But I’d recommend finding a version with the audio commentary because Nichols addresses some fans’ arguments about where and how the film should have ended.
Down video road: Teen Mom: The Complete First Season, including the finale special and extras, comes to DVD on Oct. 1 as a Walmart exclusive. Defiance: Season 1 will be on DVD and Blu-ray on Oct. 15. Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series, including the 2011 and 2012 Christmas specials, will be on DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 24.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.