There’s a scene in Rampage, the latest movie adaptation of an old-ass – sorry, “vintage” – video game, in which an albino silverback gorilla named George flips the bird at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. How did this great ape know exactly what we were thinking? Look, we’re willing to cut Johnson a lot of slack: His recent Jumanji reboot was genuine fun, and the man kills it in the Fast & Furious franchise. Even when his movies suck (hello, Baywatch), the former wrestler can run a charm offensive against crappy filmmakers and crappier computer effects. The hope was that Rampage would fall into the category of San Andreas – a Rock paycheck toss-off that might not be worth the steep price of a movie ticket but goes down easy later when you stream it at home with beer and pizza. (They share the same director, Brad Peyton.)
No such luck. Rampage, which like a pizza is served with extra cheese, pits Johnson against jumbo creatures infected with a virus that makes them big – like, really big – and super aggressive. And did we mention that they’re also injected with DNA from other species? These hybrids include a wolf that can fly and a crocodile with 1,118 humungous teeth. As for the Rock, he plays Davis Okoye, an ex Army Special Forces alpha who rescued the gorilla when his family was killed by poachers. He’s now a primatologist who prefers animals to people. Who can blame him, with so many evil humans at large?
The worst of the bunch is Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), whose Energyne lab is responsible for messing with Mother Nature to use creatures as weapons. She and her idiot brother, Brett (Jake Lacy), are, of course, the real monsters – a concept which inspires both of these performers to overact like crazy. That disease spreads to other cast members, though the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan – Negan on The Walking Dead – is so entertaining as a CIA agent who dresses and drawls like a cowboy that you go with it. It’s harder to explain the presence of Moonlight Oscar nominee Naomie Harris, stranded in the role of a scientist who once worked with the Wydens and now wants to bring them down. She needs Davis to do that. And the movie needs him even more to cut through the exposition that keeps denying audiences what they came to see: The Rock rampaging while mutant critters fuck shit up.
And then poor, sweet George gets genetically altered and starts growing at an alarmingly accelerated rate. This pisses the gorilla off to no end, leading him to rage at Johnson like, say, critics who can’t forget sitting through Doom or The Mummy Returns.
Believe it or not, Rampage has a screenplay, credited to four dudes who should have used pseudonyms. The upshot is that the gorilla, the wolf and the croc are headed to Chicago to the top of skyscraper (the title of Johnson’s next movie) where they can go all King Kong on the city like the earthquake did to San Francisco in San Andreas. Are you getting the feeling that Johnson is using the same plot outline, with minor adjustments, for most of his movies? Seeing the big guy grin and flex his muscles during action stunts, featuring spotty CGI, is probably enough for fans. But this one is definitely from the beloved star’s bottom shelf. Plus he loses in the acting sweeps to a gorilla it’s hard not to love, thanks to the performance-capture magic of actor Jason Liles. It’s easy to root for George. The movie deserves the finger.