Even in a movie that is based so thinly on a popular arcade game, Dwayne Johnson continues to prove he is the biggest action star of the 21st century. Whether it is supplying a dry sense of humor in an action offering like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” or giving a pure popcorn production like “Rampage” a jolt of acting adrenaline, Johnson has enough cinematic presence to make almost any action production work.
Without Johnson, “Rampage” would be just a notch above those smashup monster creature features that appear on cable, where it could have been called “Wolfbatasaurus” or “Crocopine.” But, Johnson is there to cast his winning shadow over the latest film to be based on a popular video game.
In case you weren’t around in 1986, Bally Midway released “Rampage” in arcades across the country. It featured three giant monsters who loved to climb buildings and knock them down. That is 90 percent of the script of the film.
Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a former Special Forces member (as he has in other films) who has spent his life killing bad guys (another repeat for Johnson) and become an expert in dealing with an albino gorilla (a new note for his resume). He’s such a bro with the gorilla, known as George, they share inside jokes and obscene gestures. This changes when an evil corporation has a sinister space experiment that turns average animals into giant killing machines go awry and is released on the world by accident. By the world, that means three places, including the San Diego Zoo.
Through a series of evil plot twists, the three giant creatures — including George — head for Chicago. Okoye must find a way to save the day — something the entire military can’t do — by coming up with a way to either kill or cure the animals. He does get a little help from a scientist, Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who was once part of the evil corporation but now only wants to do good.
The characters surrounding the two champions are barely two-dimensional. Had the major evil force behind the corporation that causes the disaster been played by a man instead of Malin Akerman, there would have been a lot of mustache-twirling like a melodrama villain. The only thing worse is her spineless brother (Jake Lacy), who doesn’t look to have the good sense to operate a lemonade stand, let alone be part of a major maniacal scheme.
Generally, Jeffrey Dean Morgan can be depended on for a solid performance, but he plays his super secret government agent with such a Texas flare that he is only a spittoon away from being the extra in a John Ford movie. Strutting around with a massive gun hanging from a belt that sports a hubcap-size buckle just adds to the silliness of the role.
The small army of writers, which includes Carlton Cuse and Ryan Engle, show no interest in developing the players any more than if they had popped out of the arcade game.
The driving force behind everything in “Rampage” is that everyone just wants to have a good time, and that’s why the film has no more depth than the arcade game.
Director Brad Peyton, who worked with Johnson on “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “San Adreas,” tries to gloss over the stereotypical characters with the big action scenes.
He does a far better job than director Steven S. DeKnight did with the giant characters in “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” where the action scenes looked little better than a ’50s “Godzilla” movie. If all you want is to see a lot of buildings fall and people get chomped, “Rampage” is the film that will tide you over until all the action movies begin to overlap in theaters for the summer.
The weak writing and poorly developed characters aren’t a big surprise. The only purpose that drives a movie like “Rampage” is to have fun watching the carnage. And that’s not different from the original arcade game, so it succeeds on that level. “Rampage” also offers hope that if a game about giant creatures punching buildings can become a major motion picture, there’s hope for a big screen offering of “Tetris” or “Joust.”
Directed by: Brad Peyton.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Naomie Harris, P.J. Byrne.
Rated: PG-13 Grade: B-
Running time: 107 minutes