When Rampage the movie finally becomes Rampage, the video game it was based on, it really works. Seeing giant mutated animals destroy tall buildings is so ludicrous and stupid it’s hard not to watch it with a smile on your face. It also fits with the rest of the movie, which is equally ludicrous and stupid... and that’s more of an issue.
Directed by Brad Peyton (San Andreas), Rampage stars Dwayne Johnson as Davis Okoye, a primate specialist who works in a San Diego zoo and is best friends with an albino gorilla named George; the two can speak to each other through basic sign language. When George is infected with an evil pathogen that makes him grow at an extraordinary rate, the only person who can help is, of course, Davis Okoye, who also happens to have a mysterious military background and can kill people with his bare hands. Basically, he’s every character Johnson plays these days, but he can do some rudimentary sign language.
The film, written by four people including Lost producer Carlton Cuse, goes to great lengths to explain that the mysterious pathogen was created by an ominous corporation run by sinister siblings (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy). The company has a history with another geneticist, played by Naomie Harris, who tags along with Okoye—hoping to stop not just George, but the increasingly giant wolf and alligator, who were also infected.
Come to think of it, Rampage goes to great lengths to explain almost everything, a trap I don’t want to fall into here. Basically, it’s structured where there’s an action scene, then a scene of people standing and explaining everything, then another action scene, and another talking scene, etc. At one point there’s literally a scene where Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, a government official, stands up and reads bullet points about two characters to the two characters. Eventually, though, all the storylines meet up in downtown Chicago, and the film finally delivers the mutated animal-smashing audiences paid to see.
It’s just a shame that everything up to that point is so cringe-worthy. None of the characters have any kind of interesting growth or story arc (not even the characters who are literally growing). The laughs are sporadic at best. The plot is incredibly convoluted, going into overly long descriptions of genetic engineering and corporate cover-ups, and it eventually pivots to showing the military in an incredibly unflattering light as it continues to ignore legitimate information just because it wants to blow shit up.
Then there are the performances which, save for one, all feel 100 percent phoned in. Johnson is charismatic, but isn’t he always? Harris seems wildly uncomfortable the entire movie. Morgan is just playing his Walking Dead character Negan, and Joe Manganiello, who plays a mercenary, doesn’t get enough screen time to even attempt anything beyond the obvious. Ackerman plays a typical evil businesswoman, which is fine, but feels somehow less villainous alongside Lacy, the only person who knows what movie he’s in. Lacy, best known for his work on HBO’s Girls, gives the best/worst performance in the movie; he’s annoying, insane, dumb, manic—basically, everything Rampage should be. He’s the one indication that maybe this film knows it shouldn’t be taking itself so seriously.
But the movie does take itself seriously, though, and that makes Rampage incredibly frustrating, until a third act finale that’s almost cathartic because it finally pushes the exposition and failed attempts at character development back for good, old-fashioned, big-budget destruction. Helicopters get eaten, buildings tumble, tanks get thrown around. It’s crazy. Not all of it is novel, exactly (half of the moves performed by the monsters feel like Godzilla and King Kong ripoffs) but it’s worth it just for the one or two moments where you sit back and go “wow.”
The final act certainly helps the film lives up to the promise of its video game predecessor, and ending on a high note is always a good thing. It makes it hard to fault Rampage too much. At the same time, the rest of the movie is so incredibly bad—and it’s a boring sort of bad, when it should be so bad it’s good. The only way to enjoy it is to laugh at it. The “plot” of the original video game was, basically, “giant monsters smash buildings.” If Rampage the movie had stuck to its namesake, it would have been a lot more fun.
Rampage opens Friday.