WASHINGTON — The current box-office champ, “A Quiet Place,” showed the right way to make a creature feature, reviving the lost art of visual storytelling with a “less is more” approach.
Just a week later, “Rampage” sadly takes the opposite approach with the lazy assumption that “more is more,” reminding us exactly why the creature-feature genre often gets a bad rap.
Based on the 1986 video game, the plot follows primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who forms a tight bond with the albino gorilla George (as in George of the Jungle). Their friendship is tested when an extra-terrestrial force enlarges several animals: George the Gorilla, Ralph the Wolf and Lizzie the Lizard (yes, those are their real names).
Seizing the opportunity to capitalize, an evil corporation tries attracting the beasts by sending a radio signal from atop Chicago’s Sears Tower. Wouldn’t ya know? They get more than they bargained for, as the beasts climb the building, “King Kong” style, and destroy the Windy City.
Despite such a ridiculous premise, The Rock’s chiseled charisma helps to pass the two hours. Trust me, no one is rooting for The Rock harder than this reviewer, having been one of the “millions … and millions” of fans since I first saw him grace a WWF ring 20 years ago. Those same tricks serve him well in his new career, as if asking critics, “Did you like my movie?” before interrupting their response with a hilarious, “It doesn’t matter if you liked my movie!”
By now, he’s surpassed Hulk Hogan in his Hollywood transition, earning good will from fans and critics after “Fast Five,” “Moana” and “Jumanji.” Like “Jumanji,” The Rock once again finds himself wrangling animals in “Rampage,” only this zoo allows him to proclaim, “Finally, The Rock has come back to Chicaaaaago,” reuniting with his “San Andres” director Brad Peyton.
The Windy City doesn’t stand a chance, as Peyton topples more buildings than Roland Emmerich. This model worked in Emmerich’s novel era of “Independence Day” (1996), but in our post-9/11 world, falling buildings are still hard to watch, especially when “Rampage” lets its heroes survive by riding the dust cloud down to the ground. Should we cringe or cry?
Alright, before we get overly serious here, I get it. A movie like “Rampage” is supposed to be ridiculous, boasting all the realistic seriousness of “Sharknado.” But rather than poke fun at itself, there aren’t nearly enough moments that break the fourth wall to let us in on the joke. There really is only one such moment — The Rock quipping, “Of course the wolf can fly” — but the actual movie takes a much more self-serious approach than the trailers have us believe.
By playing it straight, “Rampage” invites comparisons to its more accomplished predecessors. After the stop-motion soul of “King Kong” (1933), attention to detail of “Jurassic Park” (1993) and motion-capture brilliance of “Planet of the Apes” (2011-2017), the “Rampage” monsters look comparatively fake. Jason Liles plays George with motion capture in the intimate scenes, but the action scenes are clearly CGI with digital creatures crashing from building to building.
This “rubble rousing” is fine when you’re mashing buttons on a video game as a child — l have fond memories of playing the 8-bit game for the original NES — but as a movie blockbuster we deserve better than a wolf inexplicably shooting death needles from its tail. On multiple occasions, the digital creatures don’t even look like they’re on the same screen as the actors.
The human “monsters” don’t do the movie any favors with over-the-top villain performances that draw unintended laughter from the audience. Jake Lacy (“Obvious Child”) overacts as the spoiled brat Brett Wyden, giving wide-eyed reactions and cheesy fist pumps, while Malin Akerman (“Billions”) is clichéd as the evil mastermind Claire Wyden, delivering a series of sinister readings like a Bond villain stereotype, a la Priyanka Chopra in “Baywatch” (2017).
The only supporting performances that are watchable are Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), who does her best with a genetic engineer character that functions mostly as exposition, and the lovable Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“The Walking Dead”), whose snarky government agent has an uncanny ability to show up anywhere at any time to deliver too-good-to-be-true zingers.
In a script filled with bad dialogue, one line actually broke me up, as Morgan looks right at the camera to say, “When science messes the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”
In that case, to quote The Rock, this movie is a “500-pound bag of monkey crap.”
Hollywood just messed the bed. Time to change the sheets, Jabroni.