Monday, 16 April 2018

Review: Rampage

Rampage (3D)
Cert: 12A / 107 mins / Dir. Brad Peyton / Trailer

While recent big-hitters such as Assassin's Creed and Tomb Raider struggle to coherently tell a gaming-orientated story in a cinematic format, director Brad Peyton has wrangled himself a more interesting challenge - adapting a video game which famously has almost no story to tell, in the company of one Dwayne Johnson*1...

Being both male and Of A Certain Age, I spent many an arcade-based hour in the late 1980s feeding money into the Rampage machine. Not as cool as the moving cabinets of Space Harrier or Outrun, nor as geekily immersive as the sprawling Gauntlet, this was a title whereby players were on the side of the monsters and had the (relatively) simple task of destroying buildings as quickly as possible while avoiding being shot at by the army. Then rinse and repeat. Slightly different levels; same strategy and objective. Just smash stuff. Make a mess. The game's called Rampage, after all.

And now they've made a film of that. Should be fun if nothing else, right?

Well, yes and no. Our movie-version is brought to us by a crack team of four screenwriters and casts Johnson as zoologist Davis Okoya, working in tandem with genetic biologist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to counter an accidental outbreak of The Rampage Virus*2. The escaped strain has made its way to Earth (don't ask), specifically Florida, where it's mutated Davis' gorilla-friend George, a wild wolf who becomes known as Ralph and a crocodile*3, whereby the trio are lured to Chicago by the research company behind the potion, wrecking everything in their collective path*4. The evil corporation are given presence via Malin Ackerman's Claire Wyden, with Jake Lacy as her screen-brother Brett, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan heads up the Not-FBI as Agent Harvey Russell.

The film's first act also introduces Davis' zoo-colleagues Dr Kerry Atkins (played by Marley Shelton) and Nelson (OJ Byrne), then literally forgets about them altogether. God(zilla) knows how many drafts the screenwriters went through, here. It's all a bit of a mess. Although, given what the original game was about, maybe that makes sense?

While the setup lurches from one movie-archetype to the next, the screenplay doesn't take too long to get to the city, and when the three beasts finally went postal on Chigago's double-glazing, I'll freely admit to having a grin on my face. The audience isn't asked to actually believe anything outside of the screen's confines, although if they're not onboard with the ridiculous premise to begin with, the film will do little to convince them otherwise.

Front and centre here is Dwayne Johnson and his double-act with the CGI gorilla. While it's not quite a Planet Of The Apes-level showcase, the animation is executed more than neatly enough to be passable, and Johnson's solid comic-timing saves the day, although that's especially odd considering how the rest of the cast all seem to be playing this with straight-faces*5. If you don't take the movie too seriously (and I promise you, you can't), it's undemanding, entertaining stuff.

The real problem might be how wilfully un-memorable the whole thing is. Falling into the same traps as other Summer smash-'em-ups, Rampage is slightly too long, slightly too derivative, and the last 45 minutes is essentially the white-noise of a city being destroyed for the sake of it, against a ticking countdown end-finale. The game is adapted here as well as it probably can be, but this isn't even a particularly strong vehicle for its star.

Nowhere near as dreadful as San Andreas, nor as great as Jumanji; Rampage is stuck between, in a hard place with The Rock...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Rampage begins as Life then turns into a hybrid of Jurassic World and Pacific Rim.
And you either quite like the idea of that, or you really don't...

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you like films where cities collapse at the end, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
This will be a streamer, i think.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It isn't.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I think there's a Wilhelm buried low in the sound-mix where Lizzie first climbs out of the water and starts squashing the military.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Naomie Harris is in this, and she was in those Pirates Of The Carribean films along with Keira 'Sabé' Knightley.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Because utilising Dwayne Johnson to convert an action-game with no real narrative worked out so well for Doom, obviously...
[ BACK ]

*2 The Rampage Virus was of course a cure for all of humanity's diseases which went wrong. Again. Because this is a film and nobody can trust science or the scientists' ability to observe scientific method, obviously. [ BACK ]

*3 In a half-arsed bid to reference the original video game, George the gorilla is named from the start (being an actual character), and the giant mutated wolf is nicknamed on-screen as Ralph, whereas Lizzie the lizard doesn’t appear to get name-checked at all. Which is genetically-edited monster-sexism, if you ask me... [ BACK ]

*4 It's over 1,000 miles from Florida to Chicago, and while we see George getting a lift in a secret-service helicopter (because if there's anyone we trust less than scientists, it's government agencies), I don't recall it being clear how the giant wolf got there. I mean Ralph is 'big' as wolves go, but it'd still take days of on-paw travelling and there'd be plenty of time to stop him in the meanwhile. Apologies if this is covered in the movie and I've just missed it through being stupid, because it's the kind of screenplay where they could explain what two-plus-two is and still make it needlessly confusing. [ BACK ]

*5 And I'd just like to add that it's fantastic to see the award-winning Naomie Harris rocking up in something as inherently silly as Rampage. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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