"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" — If a big, dumb action movie knows it's a big, dumb action movie and revels in that fact, is that preferable to a big, dumb action movie making the mistake of thinking it's significant, relevant art? That's the question to ponder here — if you can think straight and your ears aren't ringing too badly. This sequel of sorts to the 2009 blockbuster "G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra" seems to have some cheeky fun with itself, from Bruce Willis cheerily revealing the arsenal he's hiding in his quiet suburban home to RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan essentially showing up and playing himself. A major city is obliterated with the touch of a button and several others are in peril as the world hinges on nuclear destruction in what amounts to a hammy game of chicken. Nothing matters really. This is a movie based on a Hasbro toy, after all — it's all spectacle and bombast. But at least "G.I. Joe" is aware of its vapidity compared to, say, last week's "Olympus Has Fallen," in which North Korean terrorists took over the White House in self-serious fashion, but our Secret Service agent-hero found time to make wedged-in, smart-alecky quips on the way to saving the day. That's not to say that this "G.I. Joe" is good, aside from a couple of dazzling action set pieces, but at least it's efficient in its muscular mindlessness. Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Jonathan Pryce, Adrianne Palicki and Byung-hun Lee star. PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality. Running time: 110 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"The Place Beyond the Pines" — The first image you see is of Ryan Gosling's shirtless torso, ripped and tatted atop a skintight pair of leather pants. But the long tracking shot that comes next is a better indication of where director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance is headed. His camera follows Gosling's character from behind through a garishly lighted traveling circus. Gosling's bleach-blond "Handsome Luke" lights a cigarette and strides calmly but purposefully into a loud and crowded tent, where he climbs onto a motorcycle before entering a ball-shaped cage with two other riders to perform a death-defying stunt. Over the next two-plus hours and across three connected stories, it will become clear that everything is very dramatic and everyone is doomed. You can try to redeem yourself but it's no use; the past always catches up with us. Not a terribly novel concept but one that Cianfrance and co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder hammer home with the utmost seriousness. Part one focuses on Luke trying to be a father to the infant son he never knew he had with a waitress (Eva Mendes) he had a fling with the last time he passed through town. Part two follows the rookie police officer (Bradley Cooper) whose path he crosses at a pivotal moment. And the final part jumps ahead 15 years as both men's sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) forge an ill-advised friendship. The film aims admirably for an epic sense of Greek tragedy, and it does have some powerful individual moments, but the characters are so underdeveloped that the whole effort feels like studied posturing. R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use and a sexual reference. 140 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic