There’s this lovely moment that Joe Manganiello gives us in the middle of all the mayhem of “Rampage.” He plays a badly-scarred battle-tested mercenary sent by corporate fascists to deal with a genetically “edited” wolf.
This beast is as big as a bus, teeth the size of motorcycles and spikes along its spine. Did I mention it can fly, too?
And Manganiello manfully gapes in shock and awe at the (digitally painted in) monster he is confronted with. He grimaces, locks and loads, and turns to face his fate.
He’s one of two actors who convince us that what they’re seeing and what we’re seeing is so extraordinary that their widened, panicked eyes cannot take it all in, their minds cannot process the horror they’re beholding. The other standout is the criminally under-employed Naomie Harris, playing a plucky scientist who registers “stunned” when she sees the giant wolfe, gigantic ape and epic alligator that her eyes behold.
They aren’t the stars, but they stand out in this pricey, bloody-minded B-movie on steroids, an intensely unlikeable picture despite being built around the almost-always likeable Dwayne Johnson.
Neither Johnson nor another co-star, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, give too much thought to the vast beasts they’re facing off with. They’re too busy taking turns posturing, cracking bad one-liners and hamming it up, playing that lazy screenwriter’s favorite character — the “ex-Special Forces” soldier, this time turned animal loving primatologist, and friend to a sign-language speaking gorilla, George — and a government agent with a “Men in Black” suit accessorized with idiotic cowboy belt, boots, pearl-handled Colt and drawl.
“You know whut mah ol’granpappy useta say…”
Morgan, an interesting character actor whose career was revived by “The Walking Dead,” puts his big screen future back into a coma with this, his worst performance.
And Johnson? Sometimes, he lets you see it’s all about the Benjamins. And that’s not always when he’s having to share the screen with Vin Diesel.
A secret private corporation space station is torn to shreds by the genetic experiment subjects being tinkered with in a gruesome and heartless opening scene. The “pathogen” the corporate fascists in charge (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) were shooting for, “weaponized” genetics, tumbles back to Earth and infects wildlife.
And one of those creatures is pals with Davis Okoye (Johnson). George is a giant gentle ape with a gift for sign language and a passion for practical jokes. George is a big reason Davis prefers animals to people.
“They like you, they lick you. They don’t like you, they eat you.”
George starts to mutate from licking to eating.
Harris plays a scientist with some inside knowledge of why this is happening, Morgan is the Fed running roughshod over uncooperative witnesses and sedated monsters his bosses want to contain and study.
And Brad Peyton, director of Johnson’s now two worst movies since becoming a star (“San Andreas”) is the fellow put in charge of making this script-by-committee bomb-with-a-big-body-count make sense and keep us interested. He doesn’t seem to have cared about the faceless hundreds who die in this joyless jaunt. Why should his stars?
The whole affair lumbers forward like a giant gator in a big city headed towards some sort of “King Kong” vs. “Godzilla” finale, with Johnson showing a lot of teeth and just enough commitment to ensure that nobody has second thoughts about writing that even bigger “Jumanji 2” paycheck.
The whole thing is every bit as stupid as it looks.
I like the whole corporations are out to kill us message, though Akerman’s future as a villain seems limited. But it’s a movie where you cannot convince your eyes that most of what you’re seeing is real. Computer-generated creatures, tanks, boats and helicopters fill the screen, fake crashes and fake monsters climbing digital skyscrapers, all more impressive than convincing.
And you can’t even say that for the movie as a whole. It’s not convincing, not impressive, and after “Jumanji,” Johnson’s agents will probably never let him within a city block of Brad Peyton.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello
Credits:Directed by Brad Petyton, script by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel. A New Line/Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 1:47