Movie Review: “The Meg” meets The Stath, but few laughs follow

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For the love of God, SOMEbody say “We’re going to need a bigger boat!

Because there’s no shame in quoting a line from THE shark movie when you’re confronted with one 80 or so feet long. Especially when there are so few other funny lines in what is meant to be a sort of big screen answer to “Sharknado.”

On the “Jaws” to “Sharknado” scale, “The Meg” tends to be more serious than the trailers have hinted, a popcorn picture of the “disaster” variety with Jason Statham trying to save Chinese beachgoers and The World from a prehistoric behemoth that somehow survived extinction and is unleashed by clumsy scientists.

Propped up by $150 million in Chinese production money for effects, with Chinese co-stars and a South China Sea setting, it’s more a popcorn pic spectacle that you endure, rather than enjoy. Perhaps it’ll play better with the People’s Republicans.

A billionaire (Rainn Wilson) has financed the building of Mana One, essentially a space station under the South China Sea, with the aim of getting his and a science team’s name on the discovery of a floor below the deepest ocean floor, a “new world” beneath what the depth sounders have measured.

Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and his divorced scientist/explorer daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li) head up this effort, with Mac (Cliff Curtis) in command, engineer Jaxx (Ruby Rose), remote-control rover specialist DJ (Page Kennedy) and “Doc” (Robert Taylor) all monitoring the sub that’s gone down to penetrate a chilly hydrogen layer that’s hiding this “new world.”

Lori (Jessica McNamee), Toshi (Masi Oka) and The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) are on that sub when it makes it to the bottom, and is promptly pounded by something that leaves it disabled and stranded.

Only one former Olympic swimmer has the experience to get down there and bring them back. Fetching him from a (not dissolute enough) drunk in Thailand proves easier than it should, what with him growling “You’re going to appeal to my better nature — I don’t have one.”

But it’s Jason Statham, and action fans know, “Never bet against The Stath.” And as we’ve seen in the prologue, Jonas (Statham) has “experience” with this sort of rescue, in more ways than one.

That harrowing rescue attempt, the realization that there’s a megalodon down there, and they’re all in this glass-walled science station chatting with the whales, is only the first act of “The Meg,” which features cool undersea tech like speedy bubble-topped jet subs, clear plastic polymer shark cages and an undersea lab that looks like every absurdly spacious, Apple-design team space station you’ve ever seen in a movie.

There’s a too-cute kid (Shuya Sophia Cai) — “Eight-year olds hear EVERthing!” — moments of  careless death and of personal sacrifice and even environmental complaint (Shark fin hunters get what’s coming to them.). 

And it has some of the most ridiculous place-yourself-in-peril moments ever committed to film. At least Statham’s still got that Olympic swimmer physique and the muscle memory to look great slicing through the water…swimming towards an 80 foot shark.

Muttering “Just keep swimming” as he dives in for another go at the damned shark is about as wry as he gets.

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Director Jon Turtletaub (“National Treasure”) emphasizes the tech and the mayhem here. We can guess what a shark that size (twenty feet longer than a Coast Guard Cutter) would do to a crowded Chinese beach, or a Yorkshire terrier.

Whales, motor yachts, fishing trawlers and submarines? We can guess that, too.

That being the case, the movie dawdles along, boring us as it does, in between action sequences. There’s a good chase or two, a generic escape here and there, but almost no cool lines and no catch-phrases.

“There’s a monster and it’s watching us.” “It’s not easy being the person who survives.” “Man vs. Megalodon isn’t a fight. It’s a slaughter!”

Among the cast, Rose and Curtis are wasted and Statham alone has his moments as the deaths, even the “honorable” ones, lack emotional punch.

They’re selling this as a funny escape, and that’s the movie they probably should have made. The laughs are rare — a sight gag here, the stereotypical “scared black guy who can’t swim” there. Rainn Wilson has maybe one amusing moment, and it’s in the trailer.

But the Chinese financiers may learn a hard lesson from this pricey pic, if it sells tickets the way it lumbers through the water. From liquor billionaires to Japanese conglomerates and Arab oil potentates — when it comes to “new money,” Hollywood always sees a sucker coming.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language

Cast: Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing LiCliff Curtis, Winston Chao

Credits:Directed by Jon Turteltaub, script by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, based on the Steve Alten novel. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:53

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