1.5 out of 5 stars.
“Rampage,” a new action movie directed by Brad Peyton and starring Dwayne Johnson, is based on a 1986 arcade game of the same name, a bit of trivia that I actually wasn’t familiar with going into the movie. But it makes sense to me now, as “Rampage” is so simplistic, and so mind-numbingly dumb, of course it is based on a property that is primarily concerned with giant animals duking it out.But while the movie’s main draw is the battle between the giant creatures (there are three of them in this film, a gorilla, a wolf, and a crocodile), the story needs some semblance of a human element. Enter Davis Okoye (Johnson), a primatologist at the San Diego wildlife reserve who also– guess what– is a former solider with some mad skills, whether it’s taking out the soldiers pursuing him or flying a helicopter. He has a special relationship with George, a rare albino gorilla who resides at the reserve. Davis saved George of poachers (we learn that this is part of the reason why Davis hates people and only likes hanging out with animals; it’s a little weird), and has taught him sign language so that they are able to converse fluently. But if you’re looking for them to drop some intellectual, science-y knowledge, they mostly just make rude in-jokes and hand gestures to each other. Again, it’s a little weird.
The conflict stems from a company called Energyne, headed by ruthless CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Ackerman) and her idiotic brother Brett (Jake Lacy). They have secretly been funding research for Project Rampage, developing a pathogen that can mutate genes on such a scale that their subjects can be used as weapons of mass destruction. This is such a dangerous project that the company is developing it in space, but when their test subject destroys the space station it’s on, an escape pod containing the pathogen crashes to Earth, spreading from the West to East coast of the United States an affecting George, as well as a wolf and a crocodile in the Everglades (the crocodile was seemingly thrown in as an afterthought, because how the debris from the pod spread that far I have no idea). The animals grow to ginormous proportions and, in the case of George, develop an even meaner personality, destroying everything in their path. Davis wants to save his friend, and as he is the only one who could potentially talk George down, he goes after him along with geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who has her own personal vendetta against the Wydens.
Literally none of this movie makes sense, nor does it try to make sense. It’s a series of characters doing one dumb thing after another, with Davis usually the one forced to clean up their mess. The script is remarkably stupid, with the cliched evil speeches from the Wydens and the juvenile attempts at humor undermining any attempt to make a serious emotional connection between any of the characters. Every actor is playing an over-exaggerated character, from the Wydens’ (if Ackerman’s Claire had literally had a “muhaha” moment I would not have been surprised) to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Harvey Russell, a government agent with that cowboy swagger we know from other roles Morgan has played so well. The very talented Harris is completely wasted here, and this movie would likely have been unwatchable without the presence of Johnson. But while Johnson is playing the kind of action hero he usually plays, it feels like something is missing, and he doesn’t get to have as much fun with his character.
The visual effects are adequate, but in a world where the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy exists, it’s hard not to notice that George is a computerized creation. We’re all really here for the giant monster fights, and for the most part those sequences are entertaining. It’s especially fun to watch the creatures wreak havoc on Chicago, giving the perpetually-ravaged NYC and LA a break. But the stuff in between is so dull, it’s hard to focus even on the parts that should be engaging. “Rampage” is directed with all the monotony of pushing the buttons in a brainless arcade game. It isn’t mindless entertainment; it’s just mindless.
Runtime: 107 minutes. Rated PG-13.