REVIEW: RAMPAGE (2018)

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RAMPAGE (2018)

Latest flick to be based on a video game arrives just weeks after the Tomb Raider reboot. This monster mash finds the Engyne Corporation conducting illegal genetic experiments on a space station. When it’s test subject gets free, the cataclysm sends samples of this genetic-altering material crash-landing to Earth. It’s encountered by simian wildlife sanctuary resident, George, a wolf in the Wyoming wilderness and something beneath the waters in the Everglades. The animals begin to grow at an alarming rate and acquire new strengths and abilities, causing havoc wherever they go. Engyne’s sinister siblings Claire (Malin Åkerman) and Brett (Jake Lacey) send out a signal that will lure their Frankenstein creations to Chicago, while the military and government frantically try to stop the monsters. Meanwhile George’s handler, primate specialist and ex-solider, Davis Okoye ( Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) tries to save his friend with the help of a pretty geneticist (Naomie Harris) and with a government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hot on his tail.

Film is directed very-by-the-numbers by Brad Peyton who directed Johnson in the much livelier San Andreas. Maybe it’s the messy script by four writers, no less, or maybe Peyton is tired of assaulting his frequent leading man with monsters (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) or crashing buildings around him. There are some fun bits and the monster throw-down at the end is a bit punchier than Pacific Rim: Uprising’s Kaiju/Jaeger clash, but it’s not as much dumb fun as it should be…though it is dumb. The flick seems to follow the template of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, with a little monster action here and there, but most of it saved for the last act with a lot of exposition and pontificating from hero and villain alike, in-between. There are all the clichés present you could want, from evil corporate villains, to hard-nosed military types, to the slimy government agent who eventually sees things our hero’s way. Aside from some top-notch creature FX and city smashing CGI, there just isn’t really the sense of fun Peyton gave his earlier movies with “The Rock”. One is never bored, but you’re still not having the great time you did watching Johnson navigate falling skyscrapers in San Andreas. There are more plot holes than you can shake a giant albino ape at…such as, if they could track the two fallen canisters that produced George and Ralph (The Wolf), why couldn’t they track the third canister that produced the gargantuan, mutant alligator? And while not genetically altered, why is Davis able to shrug off being shot in the gut by Claire? One minute he is in intense pain and the next he’s skipping over fallen buildings with the greatest of ease. Biggest question of all…why am I looking for sense and logic in a movie like this?

There is an impressive cast for what is basically a B-movie monster flick, name-wise anyway. Johnson has proven he has the charm and chops to be a solid action hero and he can be very funny, as his WWE days already illustrated. He is charismatic and fun here, though given some very weak dialogue that even his muscles can’t beat. Naomie Harris is a fine heroine as the geneticist whose work is used for ill by Claire and Brett, although she is mostly a second banana to Johnson…sorry about the dual penis euphemisms, sometimes they just pop up…As for our villains, they are as two-dimensional and cliché as they come with Åkerman and Lacey hamming it up as pontificating corporate banshee and her cowardly brother respectively. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also goes over-the-top as cowboy government agent Russell, who is first a pain in Davis’ side, than an ally. Another walking cliché. Rounding out is Joe Manganiello in a brief part as a mercenary sent to take down Ralph and Demetrius Grosse as a military operative too hard-nosed for his own good…and let’s not forget Jason Liles who did the motion capture performance for the big albino ape George, giving him the personality the other critters lacked.

Simply, despite the set-up of Dwayne Johnson and oversized monsters battling it out in Chicago, this flick is too pedestrian to generate the fun needed to overcome the script’s shortcomings. The characters are tired clichés, some of the actors are simply over-compensating for the lack of character development, George aside, the monsters are strictly generic and the final throw-down is a little too by-the-numbers to get us really entertained. It’s not as dull as the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising, thanks in part to the charisma of it’s leading man, but is not nearly as fun as last year’s Kong: Skull Island. Those familiar with the video game on which it’s based might be more emotionally invested, but otherwise this is a moderately amusing flick that is best saved for checking out on Netflix at some point.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 Johnsons.

 

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REVIEW: SAN ANDREAS (2015)

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SAN ANDREAS (2015)

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Go into San Andreas with the right frame of mind and you may find yourself having the most fun at the movies so far this summer. From it’s opening sequence, it’s obvious that this is pure popcorn entertainment and not to be taken too seriously, though, it is played very straight. It’s all the corny, cheesy disaster movie cliche’s possible, served up in a cinematic smoothie and topped with The Rock… and it’s a load of fun if you let it be.

Our story opens with a young woman’s car being forced off a cliff by a tremor and hanging precariously (and in defiance of physical laws) off the sheer side of a thin canyon. Enter the Los Angeles Fire Department’s ace rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his ex-military rescue crew. The girl is saved but, that is only the beginning of Ray’s soon-to-be rough day. Ray is in the process of a divorce from his hot wife Emma (Carla Gugino)…who has moved in with her millionaire douche boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd)… at the same time, his equally hot daughter Blake, (Alexandra Daddario) is leaving for college. Nothing brings an estranged family back together, though, like a natural disaster and just as scientist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) discovers a fool-proof way to predict earthquakes…the whole San Andreas fault decides to shift. Now Ray and Emma must reunite to go to a decimated San Francisco to find and rescue Blake, before another impending super-quake finishes the job…and as Ray is already haunted by the loss of one daughter, he vows to not lose another.

San Andreas is directed by Brad Peyton…who directed Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island…and the filmmaker mixes a straightforward approach with over-the-top situations, rescues and escapes, letting the latter provide the fun. This keeps the film from becoming a joke, but, at the same time, provides all the ludicrous entertainment we want from an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink disaster film. The script by Carlton Cuse…from a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore…is loaded with all the disaster movie clichés you could want and, from the first scene, throws out logic and physics for preposterous situations and unbelievable coincidences and it’s all on purpose and, somehow, even avoids going too overboard and entering Sharknado territory. The FX are spectacular and we witness some eye popping spectacle such as the ground literally rippling under L.A. and a massive tsunami heading into an already destroyed San Francisco Bay. It’s all orchestrated very well, on a technical level and is surrounded by a fitting score from Andrew Lockington and some nice crisp cinematography by Steve Yedlin. Peyton gives the film a very brisk pace but, wisely let’s us catch our breath, as we get some delightfully corny melodrama that a disaster film like this shouldn’t be without. It’s all intentional and if you just go with it, this movie can be a blast. This isn’t about logic or realism, it’s about The Rock vs. an earthquake and a tsunami and, on that level, it delivers big time. Sure it’s not perfect…why were we introduced to Ray’s team only to have them disappear in the first act?…but, it’s a popcorn flick and it’s goal is to entertain and not portray a situation like this with too much accuracy, that it stops being fun. The corny dialog and melodramatic situations are part of the plan…and it’s OK to have a good time with them. It’s all in your frame of mind when you sit down and put on your 3D glasses…and this is one flick where I think that gimmick works in it’s favor…and I’m normally not a fan.

We have a very fitting cast, too. Dwayne Johnson has grown from his WWE “The Rock” persona into a very charming leading man/action hero. There is a very welcome hint of vulnerability in his screen presence that keeps him from being a bit too superhuman like Arnold and Stallone fell into in the 80s. It makes him more accessible and a bit more down-to-Earth, despite being a physically imposing man. Carla Gugino is very sexy as his estranged wife and she seems to be having a fun time here, despite playing second banana to her leading man and she and Johnson have a nice chemistry together that makes the corny melodrama work. Daddario shows she is also leading lady material and is not only stunning to look at, but, has a charming screen presence and despite her natural beauty, gives off a very girl-next-door vibe that makes her endearing. She also has a good camaraderie with her co-stars and shows some action hero chops herself. Maybe a DC or Marvel film in her future? Hugo Johnson-Burt and Art Parkinson play British bothers Ben and Ollie who join Daddario with older Ben becoming a romantic interest, as a disaster film needs a blossoming love story in it’s midst. Rounding out is the always enjoyable Paul Giamatti as the stereotypical scientist who is crying earthquake to empty ears, Archie Panjabi as a reporter caught in the middle of things and Ioan Gruffudd is appropriately a douche as Emma’s millionaire developer boyfriend Daniel, who turns out to be a selfish coward…like we didn’t see THAT coming.

On one level this movie is silly, preposterous, predictable and ridiculous, but, go in expecting that and you will have a blast like I did. Sure it’s science is out of whack but, it’s heart is in the right place and it is unapologetically delivering exactly what we really want from one of these epic action/melodramas. If you go in expecting a National Geographic documentary on the effects of a massive earthquake in California with Academy Award winning dialogue and performances, you will not be pleased. Go in expecting “The Rock” to wade through an epic cataclysm and rescue his daughter as a city collapses around his muscular shoulders and you’ve got a fun time at the movies.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 “The Rocks”.

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