A film this stupid shouldn't be this boring
The beginning of Rampage calls to mind the end of Alien. A female astronaut, the sole survivor of her crew, is fleeing a spaceship that’s strewn with human body parts that have been chewed up by a giant creature (in this case a genetically-modified rat) who’s been running amok on-board. Just as we start to like this plucky Ellen Ripley knock-off, however, her escape pod explodes, throwing three vials of the gene-altering stew that created the giant rodent into the path of three different species on the Earth’s surface: an alligator, a wolf and an albino gorilla named George. George just so happens to be BFFs with Dwayne Johnson’s Davis Okoye, who is (improbably) a special ops soldier-turned-animal activist-turned-head primatologist at the San Diego Wildlife Reserve.
Brad Peyton’s film takes more handbrake turns than Davis’s career. Now on earth, this sci-fi/horror hybrid begins to look more like a saccharine children’s movie as Davis and George joke around using sign language while giving each other fist bumps like they’re a couple of alpha bros in a fraternity for the hard of hearing. This kids’ flick then morphs into demented creature feature mode as George begins to grow exponentially; and then it’s full-on disaster movie carnage as the ape, the wolf and the alligator, each now the size of a semi-detached house, make a beeline for downtown Chicago.
George and co are being lured there by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy’s sister-brother double-act (she’s pure evil, he’s an idiot). Their company, Energyne, created the gene-altering serum and they reckon there’s a way to monetise these giant beasties, and being despicable capitalists they’re not worried about who the creatures step on along the way.
The film’s tonal shifts may induce whiplash, but all the plot will give you is déjà vu. Based on an old arcade game that involved smashing up buildings, Rampage’s four screenwriters appear to have padded out the thin premise with ideas from much better movies. Godzilla and King Kong are obvious touchstones, but there’s also another scene cribbed from the Alien franchise in which a group of military-types are picked off one by one by the creatures while their hapless superior observes through staticky video feeds. And then that exact same scene is repeated with another group of military-types 20 minutes later.
Rampage’s stupidity knows no bounds, but it’s never as much fun as a movie with this low an IQ should be, even when the giant ape’s making the saucy hand sign that’s every filthy school-boy's favourite. Naomie Harris turns up as a ex-con geneticist who might have proven a love interest if she and Johnson had an ounce of chemistry together (our hero is far too concerned with his ape). Similarly superfluous is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who channels Tommy Lee Jones at his most southern-fried to play a government agent who unironically refers to himself as “this ol’ cowboy!”
What makes Rampage bearable at all is Johnson, an actor so likable that he creates a handful of lovely moments among this idiot’s salad of movie cliches through sheer charm (his reaction to the discovery that the wolf can fly is a deadpan joy this film doesn't deserve). He really needs to start choosing better movies, however. Action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone made a lot of questionable career decisions too, but they still eked out a handful of iconic roles amid the dross. Charisma can only get you so far. If Johnson wants to join the ranks of the great action stars, he needs to find his Terminator or Rocky. Looking at the next dozen projects he already has in the pipeline, which includes San Andreas 2, Jumanji 2 and Suicide Squad 2, we’d settle for his Commando or Cliffhanger at this point.
Released by Warner Bros