Henry Golding believes in method acting. You can tell while watching his performance in the third G.I. Joe film, “Snake Eyes,” because it is obvious the actor has fastidiously studied what it means to be a plastic toy.
The “Crazy Rich Asians” charmer is so stiff in his first go-round as an action hero, at no point do you care if Snake Eyes lives or dies. That is a big problem for a film in which the only stakes are life and death.
To cut him some slack, though, Golding signed onto awful material that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
Running time: 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of strong violence and brief strong language). In theaters.
“Snake Eyes,” while slightly better than the unrelenting vomit that was “The Rise of Cobra” and “Retaliation,” advances a storyline that need not be advanced, because everybody desperately wants it to go away.
Making matters worse, our main character is kind of an ass. He betrays friends at every step of his journey, causes untold damage and often hurts his own cause in the process.
At the beginning of director Robert Schwentke’s humorless origin story, Snake is a little boy whose father is killed unexpectedly while hiding out in a safe house. The slimeball who offs him hands Dad a pair of dice and says, “If you win, you live. If you lose, you die.” He does not specify exactly what you have to roll to win, but Dad rolls snake eyes. That’s how his son gets his moniker.
As an adult, Snake is making money as a cage fighter and gets recruited by another shadowy criminal who claims he can help him find Pop’s murderer in exchange for smuggling work. But after a massive fight in the weapons sales ring, the loner is then offered the chance to become a member of a Japanese spy’s (Andrew Koji) clan.
The secretive group protects a magic stone called the Jewel of the Sun, which allows its holder to instantly incinerate anybody or anything in their path. That seems a bit quaint considering the existence of nonmagical — but effective — bombs, guns and flamethrowers, but that’s what we’ve got to work with.
Long story short, Snake has to complete three deadly tasks to gain membership in a clan that offers very few personal benefits for him. And it takes a very long time for these challenges to happen.
All of this is building toward Snake Eyes becoming a Joe, but the martial arts film’s connection to the main story feels frail, as if “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” ended with Michelle Yeoh becoming an Avenger.
The fights, taken on their own, are occasionally OK, but not enough to lift this joke- and fun-free slog.