Movie Review: Rampage

Dwayne Johnson saves this otherwise routine monster mash

Rampage (Rampage Ničitelé)
Directed by Brad Peyton
With Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

With a giant gorilla and a fierce reptile attacking skyscrapers, Rampage doesn’t qualify as particularly original. But a winning performance by Dwayne Johnson and a ridiculous story that doesn’t even try to be deep surprisingly makes Rampage one of the better of a bad bunch of recent monster films.

It can be quite enjoyable if one sits back and asks absolutely no questions at all. Really, none.

Nominally, Rampage is based on a video game series, but there is no mention of games in the film. The premise of the film is just loosely similar. A science experiment goes terribly wrong, resulting in animals turning into rampaging monsters.

The film breaks down into a series of homages, or rip-offs, of other films. The setup is like a quick version of the 2017 sci-fi film Life, where a risky experiment has to be done in outer space.

Back on earth, the film takes its early cues from Mighty Joe Young, a 1949 film that was remade in 1988. A large ape has an almost human friendship with someone. This time, primate expert Davis Okoye (played Dwayne Johnson) has a close bond with George, an albino ape who is at a nature park.

George likes play practical jokes and make hand gestures. Okoye, who just happens to have a special forces background, doesn’t get along with people but likes George. Godzilla and werewolf movies are soon thrown into the cinematic blender.

The experiment in space, something to do with DNA manipulation, results in George turning into an aggressive giant. He isn’t the only animal affected. A wolf and an alligator join in on the fun, but in distant parts of the US. How they grow so large so quickly is glossed over with some mumbo-jumbo.

The story really is paint by numbers. There is the evil corporation, some soulless mercenaries, a super-secret government agency, the heavily armed military, and the pretty girl in distress. And giant monsters on the loose.

Dwayne Johnson, though, has an absolute gift for getting behind the most absurd dialog and staring it down until it sounds like it makes sense. When he decides what the plan is and explains it, somehow it is all crystal clear.

He also boldly marches past the worst plot holes. A character shoots him at point-blank range. A few moments later, he is back in action, brushing off an incident that would have crippled a normal person as just a minor scratch. The Rock, as ex-wrestler Johnson used to be known, is tough. He walks away from all manner of crashes and collapsing buildings.

The guy representing the unnamed government agency — or OGA, for Other Government Agency — is a bit less successful with his character. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays agent Harvey Russell as a lone cowboy with a drawling accent. His loyalties are hard to pin down. He becomes a drag on the thin plot. His dialogue could have been a bit snappier, and he just isn’t that likable.

The villains are cartoonish enough — a smart but evil woman who plans to make billions out of genetic modification, and her cowardly brother. The later provides a bit of comic relief. They are played by Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy.

Naomie Harris, who was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Moonlighting, shows up as the requisite damsel in distress. She has some inside knowledge of the genetics project and tags along with Okoye so he has someone to talk to and protect. She is a smart character though and holds her own respectably enough most of the time.

The film comes off like a Japanese monster movie from the 1960s or ’70s, but with much better special effects.

The studio Legendary recently tried to revive the King Kong franchise with Kong: Skull Island. They also made another remake of Godzilla, with an obvious eye to putting those two together in a third film to create a monster universe franchise.

Rampage effectively steals their thunder, as George and the mutant alligator are virtual doubles for Kong and Godzilla, and a giant werewolf was added because why nor.

The recent sequel Pacific Rim uprising also unleashed monsters on urban areas but was a bit flat compared to the original, and the monsters lack definition.

The less said about Universal’s effort to revive its classic monster series with The Mummy, the better.

That surprisingly leaves Rampage as the best of the recent monster mashes. It is an enjoyable time waster, but not much more than that.

As an adaptation of a video game, the film is also one of the better attempts, as that genre is usually among the worst when it comes to reviews.

But Rampage soon will face competition on the screen from the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War and likely Rampage will quickly be wiped from people’s memories.

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