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RAMPAGE Gets 6/10 Monkey business

Directed by Brad Peyton
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman

6/10

It seems odd the titular 1986 giant monster smash ’em up game would have enough cultural cache to warrant a big budget action flick decades later, but apparently that is the world we live in. Rampage does well in delivering on this, with enough call backs to the game to reference it, but (due to the flimsy plot of the original) is able to build its own storyline onto those bones.

Not that’s it a complex story. A mega-corporation (Energy) is attempting to weaponise a DNA resequencer in a space-lab. After a disastrous test causes a mutant lab rat to destroy the station in the opening sequence, three canisters of the chemical fall to earth and infect three animals around them. On a wildlife reserve, primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), is concerned when an albino ape in his care (“George”) begins to grow uncontrollably and demonstrates increased strength and aggression. With a wolf (“Ralph”) and alligator (“Lizzie”) also infected and growing out of control, Kaiju chaos is soon to follow, as the giant creatures smash through the streets of Chicago.

In all, Rampage ends up being a “by the numbers” big monster/ disaster blockbuster. Instead of the camp 1950s monster films that the game draws from, it apes (sorry) the works of Emmerich and Bay and ticks every box you would expect from a such a film. As such it seems a little flat at times, as yet another computer generated special effect levels a Chicago building, or ploughs through a squad of anonymous grunts as their commanding officer looks on at the live feed in horror. It’s cliched, and we’ve certainly seen it before.

Tonally it also falls into a grey area, as the mesh of disaster film and comedy doesn’t achieve an equilibrium. At times it does works, and really bouys Rampage as a film, giving it a point of difference, but this sits oddly with the bloody mayhem and destruction caused by the monsters. Or bloodless in the case of “George”, as we are supposed to feel sympathy for the albino ape perverted by unregulated science, hence the CG effects have little to no blood in them – despite him eating people or throwing them through metal structures. In all honesty, by the end of the film, George has probably killed more people than Hannibal Lecter. Fortunately the other monsters (“Ralph” and “Lizzie”) are less conflicted, and just deliver a straight up computer generated monstrous rampage (like it says in the titles).

That odd morally problematic hero really seems par for the course for director Brad Peyton. His previous collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas, had The Rock’s character stealing government property, neglecting his duty as an emergency rescue service, and letting people die on his watch – all so he could tear across the countryside to save his family. Here Johnson fares a little better (although his character back story demonstrates a similar lack of self awareness), and manages to work his action mojo to make Okoye a likeable character. This is a testament to Johnson’s talent, who seems perfectly comfortable delivering ridiculous lines in ludicrous situations, and seems to be having so much fun doing it that the audience is along for the ride. He’s clearly the best thing about Rampage, as well as its major draw-card, but he certainly works for it.

Rampage really delivers nothing new, but its effects and monster design are solid, its action beats are passable, and its star knows how to work the genre. It does exactly what you would expect it to, but really needed to be either more self aware, or more inventive to stand out from the pack. Not more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but possibly slightly less messy.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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