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Rampage (2018)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Where Is Bert I. Gordon When You Need Him?"
2 stars

Although the credits for “Rampage” remind you that the film is at least technically based on the popular arcade game that ate up many a loose quarter back in the Eighties, any film fan with a basic working knowledge of films involving giant monsters stomping familiar cities into rubble while square-jawed heroes try to figure out a way to save the day in the ta-daa nick of time will recognize it as being more of an antecedent of the 1957 schlock movie classic, for lack of a better word, “Beginning of the End.” In that film, for those of you whose childhoods were filled with fresh air and the like, scientific experiments into making things really big have the detrimental side effect of making a swarm of grasshoppers grow to enormous size and inspire a wave of destruction that eventually culminates with them attacking Chicago. In terms of quality, let it be said that it more than earned its placement in the pantheon of B movies that found themselves being skewered on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”—the story was preposterous, the dialogue more so, the acting was more wooden than the sets and the visual effects were not so much “special” as “deeply dubious.” (The aforementioned attack on Chicago, for example, was staged by getting some regular-sized grasshoppers and filming them walking on top of photos of notable landmarks like the Wrigley Building—a gimmick that might have worked were it not for the moment when a grasshopper steps off the building and seems to hang there in thin air.) However, for all of its faults, the film does still have a certain junky charm to it, especially for anyone living in Chicago, and as bad as it is, people still remember it more than 60 years after its first release while so many other titles from that era have slipped from the cultural consciousness. “Rampage” essentially takes the formula established by that film, adds untold millions to the production budget and comes up with something that matches “Beginning of the End” in virtually all the particulars I cited above—except, alas, for the stuff about the junky charm and being memorable.

The film starts during what appears to be the climactic moments of last year’s equally forgettable “Life” as the lone survivor (Marley Shelton) of a space station where a scientific experiment has gone horribly wrong tries to flee with a few canisters containing top secret material. Her escape does not go well but the three canisters make it back to Earth and one ends up landing in a San Diego zoo enclosure, where the gas it contains is exposed to George, a rare and highly intelligent silverback gorilla who has been raised there since he was a baby by Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), the two-fisted primatologist who rescued him from poachers when he was a baby. Seemingly without explanation, George grows exponentially in size and becomes increasingly aggressive as well. Searching for answers to what happened, Davis ends up crossing paths with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris). It turns out that she is a genetic engineer who once worked in the research department of a Chicago-based conglomerate run by Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her lackwit brother Brett (Jake Lacy). After discovering that the Wydens planned to use her groundbreaking research into making thing really big and hostile and difficult to control for evil purposes, Caldwell tried to destroy her work and wound up being being arrested and blackballed instead.

Caldwell claims that there is a serum that will help cure George, who is still growing and growing more hostile, but complications quickly set in. Before they can do anything, they are captured by quasi-governmental forces led by loquacious bureaucrat Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who bundles all of them into a plane for Washington. From him, Davis and Caldwell learn that George is not the only creature suddenly wreaking havoc—additional canisters were exposed to a wolf in the mountains and an alligator in the swamps of Florida and transformed them into huge mutations as well. To make matters worse, Claire Wyden has chosen to trigger a signal that will cause the creatures to make their way to Chicago—her brilliant plant is that they will come, the police and military will kill them and she will be able to get necessary samples from their dead bodies and slip away without anyone connecting her or her company to the carnage. (Geez, even the Umbrella Corporation from the “Resident Evil” movies had a better contingency plan for confronting their scientific mistakes than these dopes.) The three creatures start making their way to Chicago, stomping anything that the government throws in their way, and when they arrive, they start dismantling the exact same area where the Transformers would always wreak havoc while Davis and Caldwell simultaneously try to stop them and the Wydens while trying to convince the military not to nuke the city as a last resort.

I will admit that I spent more than a few bucks playing “Rampage” in arcades back in the day, usually during those sad periods when the “Tron”game was otherwise occupied. However, in all those plays, I never once looked at the game and felt that there was a story in it just waiting to come out—it was just an excuse to smash and be smashed. It quickly becomes apparent that the platoon of writers recruited couldn’t figure out how to make anything out of it either and instead chose to utilize the template established by the classic “King Kong.” In that film, and even in the two official remakes to a certain extent, the film took the time to establish Kong as a being that moved from being an object of fear into someone who felt as real and relatable as the human characters—since we cared about Kong, especially his mad and impossible romantic yearnings, his rampage in New York culminating in his climb up the Empire State Building had an emotional heft to it that can be felt to this day. Here, we are treated to seemingly endless scenes of unnecessary and increasingly convoluted exposition that does little more than eat up screen time before getting to the orgy of destruction that the majority of audience members are there to see. These scenes are not even bad, which might have given the film the kind of cheeseball oomph that it needs, as they are paralytically boring. There is nothing in these scenes that has not been done before and director Brad Peyton (who, having previously helmed “Journey 2: The Mysterious World” and “San Andreas,” appears to be Johnson’s go-to guy for soulless cinematic cash-grabs) fails to bring anything new or interesting to the party—if there is a moment that suggests that it was made by human hands, I fear that I missed it.

Of course, many of you may rightly be thinking that no one goes to a movie like “Rampage” in order to study the narrative engine driving it along.No, the only reason anyone goes to a film like this is to watch giant creatures pounding the crap out of each other while reducing a number of familiar landmarks to rubble. I get that but even if one can totally dismiss the first half of the movie as the price one has to pay in order to get to the good stuff, the payoff isn’t worth it because the so-called good stuff isn’t that great. Oh sure, millions have been spent and you can clearly see every dollar up there on the screen but that is all that you see. There is not even a single striking image or composition that will linger in the mind for more than few seconds after it flashes on the screen and the action beats are more perfunctory than dazzling. It makes sense that the film was based on a video game because watching the action scenes here is about as gripping as watching someone else playing a not-especially-interesting game for an extended period of time. Frankly, the only interesting thing about this section of the film is the lengths that the filmmakers have gone to in order to keep the giant crapshack bearing Donald Trump’s name off of the screen and that is not likely to resonate that strongly with viewers outside the Chicago area.

The only aspect of “Rampage” that works at all is the performance by Dwayne Johnson. Obviously, this is not going to go down as one of his better movies and it feels like something that he should have made about a decade or so ago—you get the sense that he signed on to ensure that he had a presumed hit in the hopper once he realized that “Baywatch” was going to tank. And yet, even though this is obviously little more than a cash grab on his part, he still throws himself into the proceedings with enough gusto to suggest that he is not simply going through the motions. He demonstrates a certain dry wit in scenes that don’t really deserve it and his interactions with George early on have a certain charm as well. His efforts are not quite enough to salvage “Rampage” but they at least keep it from being completely intolerable. He has made better movies in the past and he will no doubt go on to make better movies in the future.Hopefully one of those future films will find him trying to save the day while the entire state of Wisconsin is destroyed around him—after seeing Chicago destroyed in a couple of “Transformers” films and now this one, let it happen in a film next time to a place that actually deserves it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31226&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/12/18 09:50:30
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User Comments

8/30/18 Mark Louis Baumgart Fun American kaiju movie that is more Mighty Joe Young meets a dinosaur than anything else. 4 stars
5/12/18 Roy Good entertainment 4 stars
4/28/18 Bob Dog The Rock's charm and the grim humor elevate this disaster movie. 4 stars
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  13-Apr-2018 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Jul-2018

  11-Apr-2018 (12A)

  12-Apr-2018 (M)
  DVD: 17-Jul-2018

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