Recently I spent nearly two hours watching Dwayne Johnson pretend to look with concern in the direction of giant creatures that would be created on computers and inserted into his scenes at a later date. Considering that the mutant ape, wolf and alligator he spends most of the movie gaping at weren't really there, one has to credit the artist formerly known as the Rock with some fairly convincing fake gaping. (Margot, let's remember to add Best Fake Gaping to the categories in our year-end wrap-up!) Come to think of it, the skyscrapers the monsters mash into smoky rubble weren't actually there for Johnson to gape at, either, so the guy had to pretend to look with concern at all the set-piece carnage, too. That's a lot of fake gaping.
A version of Rampage without any of these havoc-related digital additions — just Johnson running around reacting to things he's pretending to see, with occasional pauses to deliver some havoc-related wisecrack — might be infinitely more entertaining than the finished product. You know, like Let It Be... Naked. Only with flying wolves.
Because the latest from director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) is a textbook case of more in need of less. Less stuff exploding. Less mayhem. Less stupidity. Incredibly, this is a $220 million movie based on an arcade game. Rampage is the name of a Bally Midway button masher introduced in 1986. Players controlled giant pixelated monsters as they smashed into pixelated buildings. That's it. Bash, crash, insert quarter. Bash, crash, insert quarter. Calling it a step above Pong is generous. Hollywood has officially run out of ideas.
If anyone anywhere has ever spent anything close to that sum making a bloated tentpole less memorable than this, I can't recall it. Done properly, big and dumb can be fun, of course, but don't expect winks or nudges from this generic effects-fest. Its four — count 'em, four — writers don't have a clue among them.
The narrative vacuum left by the eight-bit game has been filled with the tale of Davis Okoye (Johnson), your typical special ops commando-turned-zookeeper, whose best bud is an albino gorilla named George. George is fluent in sign language but mostly enjoys giving the finger. That's as clever as things get.
Which isn't terribly surprising, given that the story is set in motion by a monster space rat. Aboard a flaming (and illegal) lab, a scientist attempts to secure genetically altered material as the craft hurtles earthward. As so often happens, though, it blows up, scattering mutant DNA across the USA.
In Montana, this produces a monster wolf. In the Everglades, a monster alligator. In San Diego, it supersizes George. For reasons too stupid to go into, the monsters attack Chicago.
It's difficult to say which element the filmmakers bungle with the greatest imbecility. There's the picture's dialogue ("That's not good," our hero observes after a catastrophe). There's its tone, which veers tastelessly between simian bird flipping and first responders helping victims trapped under fiery rubble reminiscent of 9/11. Then there are the effects, so carelessly crafted they rarely match the palette of the picture's real-life cast and components. Glance at the image accompanying this review. Are the CGI parts not so washed out they look more like a mural behind Johnson than the world his character inhabits?
More difficult still is fathoming how dreck like this winds up at the top of the box office. The same way, I suppose, that someone like Donald Trump winds up in the nation's top office. The American people get the monsters they deserve.