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Review: “Rampage” delivers fun, mindless action

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Review: “Rampage” delivers fun, mindless action

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By Mohit Puvvala, lifestyle columnist

The curse of video game movies is well known in Hollywood.  From the miserable 1993 film adaptation of “Super Mario Bros.” to the boring 2016 film, “Assassin’s Creed,” film representations of video games have yet to prove themselves. This is partly due to many of these video games inherently being more interactive and therefore engaging than their film counterparts. Why watch Michael Fassbender jump across buildings as a 1500s Spanish assassin when you can just do it yourself? It seems every year that a new video game movie releases hoping to break the streak, and “Rampage” is the newest to try.

Rampage stomps on many awful video game adaptations, but still shows the genre has a long way to go. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in this Brad Peyton-directed video game adaptation about a massive gorilla that destroys Chicago. Does it sound fun? Yes. Does it sound cheesy? Yes. Is the movie both? Also yes. Given its laughable script, jarring CGI and shallow characters, Rampage salvages itself with Dwayne Johnson’s show-stealing charisma and all-around light-hearted mood.

The film centers around primatologist Davis Okoye, played by Johnson, as he takes care of animals endangered by poaching, including his albino gorilla friend George. When George and a few other animals become exposed to a mysterious toxin that mutates their DNA, causing them to rapidly increase in size, Davis must stop the giant mutated animals from rampaging through the city of Chicago.

The plot is rather generic given Hollywood’s recent obsession with giant CGI battles that destroy a city, so the film was doomed from the start. When a trailer sums up the entire film in two minutes and gives away most of the plot, you know your movie is spread too thin. This film’s story is something most audiences have seen plenty of times before, and no matter how much I saw big CGI explosions in a loud theater, nothing caught me by surprise.

With that in mind, if you just want a fun, mindless action movie for two hours, “Rampage” should do just fine. I say that with reserve since the superior “Ready Player One” is still in theaters with the highly anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War” right around the corner.

The major selling point of this movie is The Rock. You know those role-playing games where you get to assign stats to characters? Johnson acts as if someone had all their points equally in strength and charisma, and since he’s The Rock, both of those skills somehow got doubled in the character creation process. He’s the best part of the film and continues to remind us why we can sometimes go to a movie just for one actor. The core of this film is his relationship with George, and Johnson definitely sells his preference for animals over humans. However, I was expecting some kind of payoff at the end or a lesson that he learned. Davis doesn’t change his negative perspective on humans, a missed opportunity that could have made his character well-rounded.

I loved Johnson’s last film, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” because he plays the opposite of his familiar tough-guy character trope and has a wide range of comedy to play with. In “Rampage,” Johnson is back to his generic role, and it’s kind of getting old. I understand: the man is an action star. But even past action stars such as Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone played different archetypes. Cruise’s comedic turn in “Tropic Thunder” was far more memorable than that of “Jack Reacher,” and Willis’s quiet performance in “The Sixth Sense” still stands as one of his best. I wish Johnson would have taken on a role with a little more variety because the man is hilarious. One of my favorite performances of his was in “Moana” because he got to showcase his singing talent. However, as The Rock says in the film, when told that punching people isn’t the only solution: “I do know that, but that’s no fun.”

While The Rock is a serviceable lead and does the best job with what he has, the supporting cast often falls flat other than a fun performance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a government official. Morgan is essentially a lawful version of his character from “The Walking Dead.” Naomie Harris gives a mediocre performance with what she’s given in the script, but her character is ultimately the average scientist good guy who’s against big corporate overlords.

There are two supporting characters who have an awful lot of screen time in the beginning, but are never shown again. This was misleading and might point to potential script rewrites during the filming process. The two villains are about as generic as it gets, but somehow become worse than the average villains because their plan doesn’t make sense. They have genetic mutation drugs to test on animals and want to force them on Chicago, but I don’t know why. Whatever reason they have to destroy the city, they’re still destroying their own corporate buildings. That seems like unnecessary collateral damage. I understand that the writers wanted the mutated animals to go to the big city and destroy things just like they did in the game, but this comes off as lazy since they don’t explain why it’s in Chicago.

The film was directed by Brad Peyton, who worked with Johnson in the past with “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “San Andreas.” He seems to be a competent director with big sets and it shows in this film. The entire third act demolishes all of Chicago, and Peyton handles it well by seamlessly transitioning from the ground to aerial shots of the mutated animals destroying buildings.

However, Peyton forgot to add something more than generic mayhem. Everything about this film is just a safe bet, and while that looks good on paper, it’s not going to click with audiences since they see plenty of similar films in the theaters now. We’re about to hit the summer blockbuster season, and there’s no way “Rampage” is sticking around for much of it because the film itself doesn’t do anything noticeably different.

This also isn’t Johnson’s first video game movie as he starred in the critically-panned 2005 film, “Doom”. While Rampage is a big step up from that film, it doesn’t do much to raise the low bar currently set by video game adaptations. The best video game film was “Warcraft,” but even that wasn’t great. As far as “Rampage’s” ranking within video game movies is concerned, it falls in the “Doom” and “Hitman” category of forgettable films. It’s not as campy as “Mortal Kombat” which is so bad it’s actually good, and it’s not as visually impressive as “Warcraft.” Everything about Rampage screams “meh.”

When a film is so mediocre and safe, the final product is less than the sum of its parts. The viewing experience was hollow. I couldn’t latch onto any of the characters besides Johnson’s at certain times, and the whole film just happened. It’s a two-hour popcorn flick at best that I certainly won’t remember in a few days. Hopefully, the next Brad Peyton/Dwayne Johnson team up won’t be as bland. My suggestion to moviegoers: go see “A Quiet Place” instead.

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Review: “Rampage” delivers fun, mindless action