Directed by Brad Peyton | Written by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel | 107 min
If there was any doubt at before now, it should be clear today: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is this generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. He moves effortlessly from comedy to family fare to action movies without breaking a sweat. He steers clear of the more bloodily violent, R-rated material, but that might say more about where we are right now as a culture and less about his ability to pull that stuff off. Or maybe he’s just not into it. As the world’s top box office draw, there’s nothing he can’t get made. Check out his upcoming slate on IMDB if you’re interested in seeing how hard this guy is working right now.
Rampage, a movie version of a 1980s arcade video game, seems at first glance to be a low-rent effort from Johnson, something that’s likely to be remembered as his Red Heat or Raw Deal. But, surprise, it’s actually a pretty good time, dumber than a bagful of hammers but an effective monster movie with credible effects and big bangs when it counts.
It also works as an interesting and highly unexpected companion piece to one of last year’s best movies, The Square, which I’ll explain in a minute.
Johnson is Davis Okoye, a primatologist working in San Diego who loves animals but apparently struggles with relating to humans. I didn’t buy that for a second—there’s no way The Rock will ever convince as an introverted type—but whatever, that’s what we’re supposed to believe. When an experimental formula is accidentally released in three different locales across the US, it causes three animals to grow at an accelerated rate, get aggressive, and become largely invulnerable. An albino gorilla named George in Okoye’s care is one of the three.
Complicating matters is Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), whose reasons for showing up are a little unclear, but it turns out she was a key part of inventing the formula when she worked at a firm run by the real baddies, the Wydens (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacey). Jeffrey Dean Morgan (and his bedroom eyes, as my cinepanion calls them) also appears as an FBI agent, sporting a terrible accent and some kind of cowboy strut, which doesn’t suit him at all.
As it takes awhile to show its creature feature credentials, we have to wade through dialogue that the four (!) screenwriters must’ve written in crayon, it’s so inane. What’s most important, and what satisfies, is Peyton’s comfort with action set-pieces, including an amazing mid-air escape from a crashing C-130 Hercules transport, and the third act destruction of great swaths of the Miracle Mile.
Whether it really relates much to its inspiration, that almost forgotten video game, is really beside the point. This is summer popcorn material in chilly April—a monster movie, and that’s all that really matters.
Now, about The Square.
The most potent single scene from a film last year can be found in the Swedish satire The Square, where a performance artist acting like an ape, played by Terry Notary, wreaks havoc amongst the donor class at an art gallery fundraiser. Notary is credited here on Rampage as the Movement Choreographer, but he’s clearly doing the motion capture for George, the gorilla. His expressions and movements are so recognizable, when he eats people whole it feels a little like we’re back in that ballroom, watching him terrorize a group of well-heeled diners. I never would’ve expected it, but these pictures might make a great double-feature.