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REVIEW: Dwayne Johnson Tries To Save The Silly ‘Rampage’

I can recall playing Midway’s Rampage somewhat sporadically growing up, occasionally tossing a quarter into the arcade cabinet or having rented from Blockbuster an average-quality home console version for my NES once or twice-as video games go, it was amusing for a level or two, as you took on the character of an oversized gorilla (George), lizard (Lizzie) or wolf (Ralph), as they lay waste to various cities throughout the country.  Never once did it leave a lasting impression on me, nor did I for a second believe that a film adaptation of this classic property was even slightly necessary.

Unsurprisingly, the powers that be would eventually greenlight such an adaptation, directed by Brad Peyton and starring Dwayne Johnson in a reunion following their last pairing, 2015’s disaster movie schlockfest San AndreasRampage is quick to get to the action, wasting no time in setting up a story that removes the “mutated humans” aspect of the game and changing the species of the lizard to that of a crocodile-instead, the 2018 theatrical version of Rampage revolves around some sort of pathogen that winds up coming into contact with the three aforementioned animals, with George the only non-wild member of the group who lives in a preserve under the care of Davis Okoye (Johnson).  It isn’t long before the trio begin to exhibit both extreme growth and enhanced aggression, something which spells disaster for Okoye but is seen as a blessing by Energyne, the corporation behind the pathogen which is led by siblings Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy).  The phenomenon exists as proof that their work, which has been horribly named Project Rampage, is a success, at which point it’s time for the film to begin.

The dialogue is as simple as one might expect in a film about giant, menacing animals, though the normally acceptable Malin Akerman as Rampage‘s villain tries (and fails) to deliver her lines, both exposition-laden and otherwise, with any degree of ability and is altogether completely unable to sound any better than someone who once made a one-episode guest appearance as a bad guy on NCIS.  Jake Lacy as her manic, bug-eyed colleague/sibling is at one point accused by Akerman of overacting, a completely spot-on observation of the excessive mania Lacy gives his panic-stricken character, truly as bad as any attention-seeking high school cast member of Grease.  It’s not hard to picture Lacy occupying a principal role in a remake of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and I’d strangely love to see that happen.  Have we found our next Torgo?

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I’m looking right at you, Jake Lacy.

Never fear, however, because Joe Manganiello is here to try and save the day, armed with patchy facial hair and groanworthy lines that see him, for example, referring to the animals as Rampages-case in point, Ralph is addressed as Rampage 1, a screenwriting choice so stupid sounding it actually works, in a weird way.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a government official also joins the party as well, sporting a southern accent and the requisite level of creepiness akin to someone attempting a Gary Oldman impersonation circa The Fifth Element.  Naomie Harris as Kate Caldwell, the cookie cutter Scientist Who Apparently Is The Only One To Foresee The Disaster Before It Happens, can’t help but shakily handle her lines that lead into a sea of exposition alongside Akerman, and a wooden portrayal overall that’s as far removed from her take on Moneypenny as possible.

Let’s be honest-Rampage belongs to Johnson, who again inhabits his role with charisma to spare and seems to get better as an actor with every over the top action role he’s given.  The humor in Rampage comes mostly from the mouth of Johnson, who effortlessly plays his part and in the process makes everything count-even little scenes, like a brief moment in which Johnson attempts to fly a helicopter for the first time in years, elicited more than a few chuckles, and his command of the space around him every time he’s interacting with someone or squaring off against a gigantic beast is absolutely the mark of someone completely committed to their craft.  There’s never anything less than 100% with the man, and for that we should all be thankful.

In addition to some passable visual effects, there are some great shots, much like in last year’s Kong: Skull Island, and some genuinely thrilling sequences, such as a plane crash done far better than last year’s The Mummy, as well as a short night vision encounter with the creatures in addition to the last half hour, when Rampage finally starts to feel like the video game on which it’s based.  This is what I wanted from the moment Rampage began, a movie that takes a bit to get going and suffers from some serious pacing/tonal issues in the process, yet saving it until the end is a tried-and-true method thus making it all the more impactful-I’ll firmly state that Tomb Raider could have learned a valuable lesson in this department.  Believe me, the final third of Rampage contains the sort of fun you used to experience as a kid, watching Saturday morning cartoons while your third bowl of Golden Crisp sat nearby, ready for consumption.

Unfortunately, even as Rampage begins to wind down, events start to unfold onscreen in a confusing jumble of images that make it hard to discern exactly what’s going on, much like any Transformers entry, mixed in with the human cast attaining a bizarre A Good Day to Die Hard-esque level of invincibility that may cause many a scratched head to wonder how exactly they’re able to survive anything that’s happening.  It’s also worth mentioning that the method used to draw George, Lizzie and Ralph into the city where the meat of Rampage lies might be one of the laziest plot devices ever utilized, another unintentionally hilarious component of a movie that contains many.  Oddly, for a movie that doesn’t even reach the two hour mark, it never seemed to end, not at all helped by the fact that, like so many others, Rampage is another actioner with uninteresting scenes connecting the excitement that fail to do anything to keep me interested.  Can we also point out that the brief explanation of how Ralph got his name is rather terrible?  Can we, please?

Rampage exists as a semi-innocent film, a B-movie that handles oversized monsters far better than the entirety of Congo, Mighty Joe Young or a misguided Pacific Rim sequel, though it is at the end of the day ultimately worse than the original Pacific Rim-whereas Rim had Idris Elba, Rampage does not.  The script, co-written by Carlton Cuse, might suffer from perplexing issues in a similar yet different way from his work on Lost, while the cast as a whole might fail to rise above a level normally reserved for the most average of thespians, but Dwayne Johnson again proves he’s a force to be reckoned with and a true talent I’ll follow onscreen for as long as he chooses to lead the charge on any blockbuster of which he’s the star.  Rampage may not have changed my views on the video game classic, but as a movie, it’s dumb enough to be a good waste of time.

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