Set ’em up, knock ’em down, bad guys lose, good guys win — cue raised eyebrow.
George is a unique albino gorilla rescued from poachers by primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who not only raised George but taught him sign language. After a project on-board a space station goes horribly wrong, three canisters containing a gene-editing virus fall to earth, one landing in the gorilla enclosure in San Diego… and infecting George. Exposure triggers not only a sudden growth spurt in the animal but also increased aggression, drawing government attention under the watch of Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). George isn’t the only one affected, of course, and an unscrupulous corporate mogul named Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) is drawing all the creatures to Chicago with little thought over the casualties it will cause.
When the first trailers went live for this, some knew immediately what they were watching: a live-action version of the old 1980s arcade game “Rampage.” In terms of pure silliness, the goal was to create as much damage as you could playing the monsters, all of which are featured in the movie, and to keep the military at bay for as long as possible. While there have been plenty of bad video game films out there, this one seemed almost destined for the big screen; it just needed to wait for technology to catch up with the concept. Does the movie measure up with its monsters, or is this just another Super Mario Bros. debacle?
Fans of San Andreas will find plenty to love here: Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson cashing in with another character in the right place at the right time — always with those inexplicable helicopter piloting skills. While Andreas was about a literal family rescue in the face of a freak yet natural disaster, this Chicago-based destruction-fest is all meg-monster vs. military stuff with a few hapless villains thrown in for the hell of it. It’s mindless big-screen action that asks nothing more than for you to leave your brain at home and watch the pretty violence and destruction, mostly directed at CGI monsters and famous landmarks. If you’re not a fan of seeing The Rock do his thing in front a green screen reacting to tennis balls before the effects are completed, this won’t sell it for you; for everyone else, it’s exactly as advertised.
The casting is almost incidental. Corporate bad gal played by Malin Akerman is as bad as they come, lying to the faces of oversight while plotting low-rent world domination. Jeffrey Dean Morgan essentially channels Negan from “The Walking Dead,” downplaying being truly evil while wallowing in being an asshole — by name. Naomie Harris appears to only be there to fill in the blanks that Johnson can’t figure out for himself and provide one more person to be rescued. Let’s be honest: George is the star attraction — it isn’t tough to figure out who wins against a flying megawolf and submarine-sized gator — while Johnson is the human star.
Don’t miss the “hey, I know that guy” Joe Manganiello cameo taking on Wolfie, a bit made funnier since he was the alpha wolf in HBO’s “True Blood.” You could do far worse for a popcorn flick, and the movie channels are likely salivating to put this mindless fun on their stations in heavy rotation. It’s a throwaway but a fun one: think “Sharknado” with a bigger budget and superior production design fit for a popcorn matinée. What else are you going to do until Avengers: Infinity War comes out?
Three skull recommendation out of four