You know what might make an intriguing, revealing movie? The story of how, over 30 years after its debut, a relatively innocent arcade game starring a giant ape and other oversize beasts underwent a corporate transmogrification and became a turgid, logy sci-fi/action blockbuster.
It is unlikely that such a film will be made; instead, this week, we just have that turgid, logy blockbuster. “Rampage,” based on the 1986 arcade game, stars Dwayne Johnson as the primatologist Davis Okoye, who signs with animals and has a special bond with an albino silverback gorilla named George (he knows how to make crude gestures at Davis). George is destined for gianthood, and for unusual aggression, thanks to a genetic experiment that goes haywire.
The movie’s opening scene, which is also the best action set piece in this Brad Peyton-directed picture, depicts the lone survivor of a space station catastrophe trying to return to Earth with her scientific samples intact. This doesn’t work out. Instead the bad gene stuff winds up hitting ecosystems across this great nation, yielding a giant wolf, a giant crocodile and a giant (and now mean) George.
The mutated animals are soon making a beeline for Chicago, whence the bad guys are summoning the creatures. (They have also been genetically programmed to respond to a particular radio signal.) The rather dim villains, Claire and Brett, are a sister and brother team played by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy. At one point Claire says: “Lucky for us our building has some of the most powerful radio antennae on the face of the earth.” (Another dialogue gem goes like this: “Colonel, what everybody needs to understand is that we’re no longer dealing with a wolf and a gorilla.” The movie has four credited screenwriters.)
As for Mr. Johnson, one hesitates to level a charge of “phoning it in” against him. He’s a generally reliable performer, but I have to say it seems he had less fun here than he did in the recent “Jumanji.” The special effects are only distinguished by a peculiar concern for verisimilitude — the initially snowy George gets really dirty on his way to Chicago, while the unnamed giant wolf appears to be suffering from mange.
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