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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BARE BONES: JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

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JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

Sequel/reboot to the 1995 book based flick finds four teens, nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), jock “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain), shy girl Martha (Morgan Turner) and popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman from Tales of Halloween) together at detention. Their task is to clean up the school basement where they find an old video game called Jumanji. They activate the game and magically get sucked into it’s world. Now in the fictional jungle land, they take on the appearance of their video game characters, with Spencer becoming adventurer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge becoming his sidekick Mouse (Kevin Hart), Martha becoming ass-kicker Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany becoming male scientist Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). The four must save Jumanji from the villainous Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), if they ever are to return home.

Film is directed by Jake Kasdan from a script by four writers and despite the scribe overload, is a harmless and fun flick. The action comes fast and furious, the cast is very charming and works well together and there are some very funny moments. The film pays tribute nicely to the 1995 Robin Williams flick and mixes the sentimentality with the more fun elements very nicely. The FX are top notch and being set in a video game, it has an excuse for some very over-the-top situations and even has fun with gamer tropes such as our leads having only three lives which they must guard preciously if they are to return home. Sure it has a sappy finale that wraps everything up in a nice little bow, but with this kind of flick, that’s kind of expected. It’s not perfect. It can be very predictable and not all of the jokes/bits work, but it’s still an entertaining time on the couch with Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black having a fun chemistry together, that helps smooth over some of the bumps.
-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: BAYWATCH (2017)

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BAYWATCH (2017)

Comedy based on the popular 80s TV show has lifeguard legend Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) dealing with a hot shot new recruit (Zac Efron) and a sexy female drug dealer (Priyanka Chopra), who is dealing a new drug on his beaches. Now Mitch has to make this bunch a team and protect the sands and waters of Emerald Bay.

Directed by Seth Gordon from a script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, this flick has some laughs and there is some wit behind the raunchy banter, but it drowns in the clichés of the band of misfits investigating the big bad drug queen, when no one else thinks there is anything wrong plot. The film does resemble a TV show episode and is very predictable, though the cast seems to be having fun and can be quite charming. Too bad there wasn’t a better script to go along with the muscles, cleavage and original show cameos. Also stars Alexandra Daddario as another new recruit.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: SAN ANDREAS (2015)

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SAN ANDREAS (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

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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BARE BONES: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, NEIGHBORS and HERCULES

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A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014)

I’m not a big fan of Seth MacFarlane’s ‘horny 13 year old’ sense of humor and I don’t watch Family Guy. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Ted, though and so, went into this, his new flick, with an open mind. But sadly, despite some nice sentimental moments here and there, this western/comedy is a constant barrage of boring sex jokes and bodily function bits that are vulgar for vulgars sake. MacFarlane ignores actually trying to tell his cliche’ story and fills this overlong movie with an endless and tiresome parade of gross-out humor that wears out it’s welcome in the first half hour or so. How he dragged Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried along with him in this predominately unfunny mess is a mystery.

2 star rating

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NEIGHBORS (2014)

While  I wouldn’t outright say that Neighbors is a bad film, it’s just that it is such a routine and cookie cutter, Hollywood situation comedy that is instantly forgettable once the credits role. Flick has a frat house moving in next to yuppie couple Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and the resulting war between them and the Zac Efron led frat boys. The flick really isn’t that funny and it actually makes the couple appear far more childish and irresponsible than the ‘kids’ they start a feud with. It also was a bit disturbing that these two ‘adults’ leave their infant daughter alone in their house numerous times to party with/make war with the boys next door. A few funny bits and Efron gives his character a little depth but, it’s hard to root for Mac and Kelly when they seem like bigger jerks than the partying frat guys who the film can’t decide are the bad guys or not. Kind of a mystery as to how this was such a big hit.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HERCULES (2014)

Brett Ratner directed flick is based on a graphic novel that portrays the legendary Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) as a powerful yet, very mortal mercenary whose 12 labors and lineage of the gods is just embellished PR fables to drive fear into the hearts of his enemies. Herc and his crew are summoned to help an embattled king (John Hurt as yet another ‘old king’) free his country from invaders but, is duped into aiding a tyrant. Betrayal and vengeance ensue. This is another flick that passed the time alright but, is so by-the-numbers and forgettable that it barely justifies existing in the first place. The Rock seems like he’d rather be somewhere else with an uninspired performance as one of the world’s oldest heroes and the rest of the cast are all operating on a paycheck grab level as well. Competently made but, when all is said and done, routine, cliche’ and uninspired.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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