Not that you would anyway, but it doesn’t pay to think too hard about “Rampage.” Sure, it could be improved (shorter would have helped), but it gets the job done in a more or less acceptable way. Not the highest praise, but things could have been worse.
After all, if you’re looking for a movie that features not just an enormous gorilla but a monstrous reptile and a wolf so massive that (spoiler alert) it can take down a helicopter in midair, there is not a lot else to choose from.
It used to be, back in the day, that simply putting a big ape on screen was all a movie needed for success. But, courtesy of the three-beast video game on which “Rampage” is based, stand-alone simians with evocative names like Nabonga, Konga, Gorga and Ingagi, not to mention King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, are apparently a thing of the past.
Very much a man of the present is Dwayne Johnson, as appealing a presence as contemporary American cinema has, with the box-office statistics to prove it.
“Rampage” is the third film (the last one was earthquake-heavy “San Andreas”) made by the actor, his go-to producers and director Brad Peyton, so saying it is tailored to his strengths is not giving away a lot.
Those include a formidable physique joined to a relaxed, self-referential sense of humor (“that’s a big arm, don’t fight it,” he advises), a gift for green-screen sincerity and the ability to say lines like “something’s not right here” and “you’re making a big mistake” with a straight face.
A straight face is definitely called for to play Davis Okoye, a primatologist at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary who takes on a terrifying trio of monstrous bioengineered mutants who get out of hand in a major way.
The rare scientist who conveniently has considerable Army Special Forces experience, Okoye definitely prefers the company of uncomplicated animals to people. “If they like you, they lick you,” he convincingly explains, “if they don’t, they eat you.” Hard to argue with that.
As is often the case with films like this, “Rampage” has numerous credited writers (Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel) and signs of conflicting visions are are not hard to find.
Several characters, including Nelson (P.J. Byrne), Okoye’s right-hand person, are carefully introduced in the film’s first part only to completely disappear later. No, the beasts didn’t eat them, they are just gone.
Okoye himself is introduced at the sanctuary, hanging out with George, an albino silverback gorilla (a fine motion-capture performance by Jason Liles). Man and beast share a rude sense of humor, and though they probably don’t go barhopping together, George clearly qualifies as a close personal friend.
While these kumbaya moments are playing out down here, a very different scenario is unfolding on a manned station in outer space, where a rogue science experiment, a.k.a. Project Rampage, has gone terribly wrong (don’t they all), causing some sinister canisters to crash land on Earth.
Those containers hold a gene-altering substance that causes animals to grow in leaps and bounds and ferocity, all part of a reckless scheme by evil siblings Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) of bioengineering firm Energyne to create and sell “weaponized DNA.” Which may be more plot than a film like this needs.
Long story short, three canisters explode on landing, creating three ferocious menaces, including poor George. For reasons not worth specifying, these creatures make a beeline (no actual bees were involved, it’s just a metaphor) for Chicago with destruction on their minds.
Capable as he is, Okoye, distraught for his transformed friend and worried about the Windy City in equal measure, does not handle this alone.
His collaborators include geneticist and former Energyne employee Kate Caldwell (the gifted, Oscar-nominated Naomie Harris, not breaking a sweat) and mysterious government operative Agent Russell (a very amusing Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who gets to say things like “when science soils the bed, I’m the guy called in to change the sheets.”
Challenges to credibility aside, the main problem with “Rampage” is that it’s way too long. Unless you are a green-screen die-hard, there is a limit to how much rampaging you need to see. Less would definitely have been more, but in a movie like “Rampage” less is the last thing on anyone’s mind.
MPAA rating PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures.
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
In general release.