Review: Rampage

Score: C+

Director: Brad Peyton

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Even with an extremely low bar to clear, we still haven't gotten a good video game adaptation. Rampage comes closest, mostly by virtue of not taking itself too seriously, but it's still a miss.

The good news, as expected, is the Rock valiantly carries this ridiculous premise on his broad shoulders. Based on one of my favorite video games as a kid – but with more plot than this requires – Johnson plays Davis, a primatologist who has a close relationship with George, an albino gorilla he personally rescued from poachers. George gets exposed to a canister of an engineered chemical that fell to earth from a crashed space station, causing him to grow rapidly and display uncharacteristically aggressive behavior.

I was honestly shocked how the film develops the emotional connection they share in such a short amount of time. The motion-capture performance of Jason Liles and the special effects aren't on the level of the recent Planet of the Apes films, but it's not that far off.

The chemical that caused George to hulk out (and also modify a wolf in Wyoming and an alligator in Florida) was created by Energyne, your standard evil corporation, run by an ice queen (Malin Akerman) and her doltish brother (Jake Lacy). A former Energyne employee (Naomie Harris, slumming it) joins up with Davis to help him understand the chemical and how they might save George.

But George's mini-rampages at the wildlife sanctuary where he lives catches the attention of the U.S. government, particularly a shady operative played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He acts like he just walked in from a different movie entirely, specifically Sicario, since he's basically doing the same cowboy schtick Josh Brolin did in that much more somber film.

When Rampage works, it's not taking itself too seriously. Unfortunately, the movie seems to be at odds with itself over just how intense it needs to be. That was bound to happen with the movie's four credited writers, including Ryan Engle (The Commuter), the creators of the USA show Colony, and Adam Styzkiel (Due Date). That means the dialogue usually follows a pattern of passable human conversation, super-clunky exposition, then a B-minus quip. It also can't decide if it wants to be absurd and bloodless, or realistically violent. Some people get comically eaten whole just like in the game. But one scene, in which a black-ops squadron gets taken down by a mutant wolf, features a shocking amount of blood and entrails.

Ultimately, Rampage is too much of a mixed bag to fully recommend. The final 30 minutes or so is purely entertaining, both for fans of the game and monster movies in general. Yet most of what comes before feels too much like a game: serviceable-at-best dialogue, an abundance of set-pieces, and obstacles that only seem like filler. It's almost worth it to get to all the wanton destruction.




About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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