A film review by Craig J. Koban April 23, 2018


2018, PG-13, 115 mins.


Dwayne Johnson as Davis Okoye  /  Naomie Harris as Dr. Kate Caldwell  /  Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Agent Russwell  /  Joe Manganiello as Burke  /  Malin Åkerman as Claire Wyden

Directed by Brad Peyton  /  Written by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel






It's perhaps a highly fitting thing that the new sci-fi action thriller RAMPAGE is utterly brainless, seeing as it's ever-so-loosely based on a mid-1980's video game series of the same name that involved massive monsters decimating cities in the most basic button mashing form.  

Sacrasm aside, the film certainly coasts by on the sizable charisma and star presence of Dwayne Johnson, not to mention that its production values and visual effects work showcasing the gigantic beasties in question tearing through downtown Chicago are undeniably top drawer.  Lamentably, though, RAMPAGE is a film that fails to fully embrace its ultra campy vibe because when it's not nuttier than a fruitcake it's aiming for scenes that try to pack a dramatic emotional wallop.  That leaves an unquestionable whiplash effect on viewers.  Beyond that, RAMPAGE suffers from an embarrassingly rudimentary screenplay (the product of four writers) that careens towards one unintentionally laughable scene to the next.  



And, wow, The Rock plays one of the most conveniently written characters...perhaps ever...here.  He’s Davis Okoye, a former elite soldier, a member of a global anti-poaching unit, and a world renowned primatologist.  He can shoot anything, fly anything, knows ape sign language, and can survive gun shot wounds, vehicle crashes, and multiple explosions without requiring any medical aid whatsoever.  The only thing he's not shown to have a proficiency in throughout the film is knitting.  He spends most of his time in a San Diego wildlife preserve, befriending a local and rare albino gorilla named George, who's rendered so convincingly in cutting edge visual effects that he nearly out charms his eyebrow raising co-star (it should also be noted that Davis saved this gorilla from some very nasty poachers).  Anyhoo', George has a very chance encounter one evening with the remnants of an exploding space station that has dropped to Earth, which contained - what else? - a weaponized DNA splicer.  As a result, George begins growing at an astronomical weight and shows dangerously heightened levels of aggression that would make King Kong blush with envy.   

But, wait for it, George isn't the only beast affected by coming in contact with this splicer.  There's a wolf in the Wyoming wilds that gets a whiff of it, not to mention an alligator in the Everglades as well.   As news reports begin to chronicle these temperamental monsters and the destruction they leave in their wake, Dr. Kate Caldwell (a very wasted Naomie Harris) decides to seek out Davis in hopes of restoring balance back to nature.  She was the one that developed the very formula that led to the animals' mutations, and predictably feels guilty as hell about it.  Her claim is that her former bosses, Claire Wyden (a horrendously miscast Malin Akerman) and her brother (an equally miscast Jake Lacy), have misused her invention and now plan to sell it to the highest bidder on the black market, showing little to no remorse for the lives that the modified monsters have destroyed.  Complicating matters for Davis and Kate is the appearance of a government agent, Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who wants to stop George and the other two beasts using an any means necessary approach.  Unavoidably, George and his fellow mutated monsters are eventually drawn to the Windy City, which culminates in a climatic third act of would-be rousing, but predictably numbing city disaster porn.

The final act of RAMPAGE delivers, I guess, on its advertised promises to be loud, crude, carelessly violent, and sometimes exhilarating, but it also demonstrates some real head scratchingly implausible lapses in plot logic.  Like, for instance, this film's necessity to ensure that Chicago is unpopulated during the attacks to get away from explaining how thousands upon thousand of citizens were not killed during all of the monster on monster collateral damage (hysterically, there's a brief scene showing military leaders telling one another that over 50% of downtown Chicago was evacuated...in around 30 minutes).  For my money, there's a mid-movie sequence that's actually better executed, involving George trying to escape custody from his holding cell in Russell's heavily secured plane during flight, which builds to a crescendo of the mad ape crushing his way through soldiers and tossing them around like ragdolls.  Alas, because this film is PG-13, the bodies of these murdered soldiers rarely produce splattered blood and brain matter, which should have been the natural by-product of an oversized gorilla punching through them with savage ease.  Hell, even when Johnson gets violently shot in the gut latter on it produces a wound so tiny that the blood spot on his white shirt is smaller than an apple; he's also super humanly unaffected by it, seeing as the blood loss alone should have collapsed him. 

I know...I know...this is a film about irradiated monsters destroying cities.  Checking one's brain at the cinema door is required before gaining entrance.  I'm also willing to forgive a film like this that wants to proudly show its lead star in ultimate butch mode that's impervious to conventional weapons and/or freak animal attacks.  Perhaps my main aggravation with RAMPAGE is not that it's dumber than a bag of hammers, but rather that its aforementioned destruction porn proclivities are more exhausting than exciting (and methodically tedious, coming a few short weeks after the awful PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, which committed the same sins).  The one note and paint-by-numbers scripting is also lethally bad, especially when it comes to the villains of this piece, who emerge like they were coming off of the set from a whole other B-grade action film altogether.  Compared to the relatively straight-laced performances by Johnson and Harris, Akerman and Lacy are so obtrusively cartoonish here as evil corporate CEO stooges that they never once emerge as truly sinister antagonists.  Their whole nefarious end game also, when all is said and done, makes very little actual sense, other than to make good wild animals turn badder, larger, wilder, and capable of mass urban destruction...and to profit off of it.  And in a nonsensically meta moment, the siblings even have a Rampage arcade console in their office.  How.  Very.  Clever. 

The other actors don't fare much better either, although Johnson is required to do not much more than let his brawn do much of the talking.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to be a bit more in on the joke that is this movie by playing up to the outrageousness of his character's Texas origins: His over the top swagger suggests that the actor understands the inherent trashiness of the film he populates and simply just goes for it as a result.  Harris in particular gets a rough go of it here, being delegated to a flatly registered sidekick to Johnson's kick assery, and she never once fully emerges as a character of intrinsic interest throughout.  The film's attempts at fleshing out her and Johnson's characters by giving them a moment of dramatic reflection on their emotionally troubled pasts (including Davis recounting saving George from certain poacher deaths) is kind of embarrassingly shallow.  RAMPAGE wants to have scenes of dramatic brevity alongside ones of ham-fisted corniness, and all without deciding what hemisphere it really wants to occupy.  The ending of the film, at one point, looked like it was going to achieve a heart rending moment that would justifiably and dramatically ground Davis' doomed relationship with George, but it then builds towards an obscene hand gesture gag for the sake of providing a cheap laugh.  I loathe it when endings cop out and cheat. 

RAMPAGE also lacks one thing in serious dosages: a legitimate sense of genuine awe and wide eyed wonder in its fantastical sights.  The beasts presented are thanklessly created with staggeringly good CGI, but they occupy scenes of mayhem that are collectively on such bland autopilot that they failed to inspire or hook me in on any level.  The film was directed by Brad Peyton (who previously made the VSX heavy - and mostly soulless and uninspired - SAN ANDREAS, also with Johnson) and he certainly knows his way around this type of material from a technical perspective.  Yet, all the flashy eye candy in the world can't save RAMPAGE from its unremarkable schlockiness.  With a tone all over the proverbial map, a mostly wasted cast, and a fundamental lack of conceptual imagination, RAMPAGE is a creature feature that lacks a lasting bite.  

But The Rock is easily the toughest and most muscle bounded ex-elite soldier turned anti-poaching crusader turned primatologist in movie history.  

He's a triple threat here.  

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