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MOVIE REVIEW

'The Marine' is a stiff salute to the action genre

Physically, the professional wrestler John Cena is to Matt Damon what economy is to travel size. It would take three Damons to equal one Cena. When it comes to acting, the proportions should be reversed. Still, the facial resemblance between these two is curious enough to make a few minutes of ``The Marine," Cena's otherwise dumb Hollywood debut, worth enduring

``The Marine" proves a poor showcase for the homeboy charisma Cena shows week in and out with the WWE. He plays John Triton, a Marine stationed in Iraq, honorably discharged after he disobeys orders and rescues fellow soldiers from Arab baddies without backup. Clearly, his commanding officers have never seen Cena empty a wrestling ring. The man doesn't need backup. Nonetheless: no discharge, no movie.

Civilian life affords John more time with his pretty and sensible wife, Kate (Kelly Carlson) , and to figure out what he might be good at. If it's throwing goons through windows, the security business probably isn't the best fit. A melee in the lobby loses him that job the day he gets it.

Kate suggests a weekend getaway, and on the road to the mountains, they stop for gas. So have the five folks who just robbed a South Carolina jewelry store of $12 million in diamonds.

The crooks, led by a slimy-sexy Robert Patrick, also shot an employee and blew up a cop car with a missile. How they suddenly have time to peruse magazines at a quickie mart is beyond me. But when a cop approaches Patrick, everybody gets nervous again. The officer gets dead. Cena, who was buying his wife a soda, gets clobbered with a fire hydrant. And she becomes the crooks' hostage.

Sure, the station goes up in flames (the pyrotechnics give the best performance in the whole picture), but John is indestructible. He hops in a sporty highway patrol vehicle and pursues, hotly.

What follows is serviceable action set to music you'd find in a video game -- or a military ad. The first shot in ``The Marine" is of a uniformed Cena saluting the camera. This isn't objectionable so much as it is a thankless tribute. Ridiculous as he was, Rambo had psychological anguish. Schwarzenegger, in, say, ``Commando," had a former dictator to hunt down. As Triton himself would tell you: He's a Marine, that's all -- bare of political point of view and seemingly indifferent to what he saw in Iraq.

The movie is equally basic, stretching a 30-minute chase into an hour and a half. Among the digressions is extended time with the crooks, who seem to have been plucked by Patrick from personal trainer gigs at his gym. The craziest, deadliest, and stupidest one happens to be a black guy with a persecution complex.

Once the chase commences, Cena's primary tasks include standing in the woods and looking either inquisitive or misplaced, then running from the right side of the screen to the left. To mix it up, occasionally he leaps over the camera. You want more for Cena than this. You want him to take this grubby Michael Dudikoff reject and choke-slam it with authority. Maybe in the sequel.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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