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Notes from the back row

Yo Joe!

Nostalgia's a bitch, ain't it? Hollywood knows all it has to do is take something cool from 25 years ago, repackage it for today's kids, and sit back and collect the money while everyone aged six to 36 goes to see it. Exhibit A- Transformers 1 and 2 , movies about toys (and Megan Fox). Hasbro is at it again this week with a way-better-than-I-expected G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra, opening Friday at the Village 8.

G.I JOE was huge when I was a kid - a 155-issue comic book series, a weekly cartoon and still the greatest action figures ever made - fully articulated joints and shitloads of interchangeable weapons meant me and my buddy Brian could spend entire weekends making machine-gun sounds with our mouths and reliving the heroics of a war on terror. Brian even had the seven-foot long aircraft carrier, it took up half his room.

Capturing that nostalgia perfectly, the live-action G.I JOE movie watches like it was pulled from the imagination of a 10 year old. It's a balls-out action smorgasbord of explosions, ninjas fighting, underwater explosions, ninjas fighting when they were kids, car wrecks, gunplay, missiles, and high tech suits so awesome they only get used once, and oh yeah, hot chicks in tight suits.

GI Joe is not "A Real American Hero" anymore. It's an international team of shitkickers out to stop terrorists, led by an arms dealer named Destro. Along the way, the Joes destroy plenty of real estate, including Paris. (If it all sounds a bit like Team America: World Police that's because Matt Stone and Trey Parker are geniuses who can see into the future.)

With one exception the casting is perfect - good actors who play their toy-roles with the right mixture of camp and seriousness. The exception is Marlon Wayans, who plays Ripcord, the comic-relief character. Part of the blame falls on the writers but Wayans just can't pull it off. He sucks chicken manure throughout the picture.

Luckily neither Ripcord, nor anyone else, is given enough time to distract from the action, and the action is fantastic. Director Stephen Sommers ( The Mummy) delivers well-staged, well-choreographed visual set pieces that truly flow. Remember in Transformers 2 when half the time you didn't really have any idea what was happening or who it was happening to? That doesn't happen in G.I. JOE : it's easy to follow and all the Joes get involved in the action and the violence - yes the body count is high, but it's perfectly cartoon-y and there's not a lot of blood. G.I. JOE is the ass-kickingest PG-13 flick to come along since the last Rambo movie. This is a movie for kids, and the kid in you. And if you doubted it from the trailer, now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Julie and Julia , on the other hand, looks more like a movie for late-50s housewives with low cinematic standards. Also opening Friday it stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, but as far as I can tell it is a movie about French cooking, or a cookbook, or writing, or two cookbooks, or something. Word around the oven is that it has no pacing, drama, romance or conflict and with multiple voice-over narrations hand-holding you through the fluff of it all, Julie and Julia falls flat as a punctured soufflé. Which is too bad, because there hasn't been a ton of great female-oriented flicks this year and I have yet to meet a woman who can make good machine-gun sounds with her mouth, at least not on purpose.