The arcade game Rampage stomped onto the scene in the mid-eighties. The player, assuming the identity of one of three gigantic creatures, attempted to pound the crap out of a city. It was dumbed-down, straightforward fun. One could say the same of director Brad Peyton’s latest blockbuster film loosely based on the game.
True… Rampage is yet another movie with massive creatures tearing apart prominent human developments – in this case, it’s the City of Chicago. However, this film offers the much-loved Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) in the leading role and the ever-smirking Jeffrey Dean Morgan as support, plus a well-timed warning about environmental exploitation.
Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) has a strong relationship with San Diego wildlife preserve resident George, the last remaining albino silverback. They even joke around and use lewd gestures with their sign language. Then George gets sprayed with an experimental chemical that rapidly enhances his size and strength. Soon, he escapes and gives a new meaning to the term “apeshit”. Okoye and disgraced geneticist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) set out to stop George without harming him.
Adding to the film’s entertainment quotient is Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Harvey Russell, an OGA (Other Governmental Agency) agent with Texas swagger. Russell wears a big ol’ belt buckle and a pearl-handled revolver and quips, “Like my grandpappy always said: us assholes gotta stick together.” Morgan, his slim frame leaning this way and that, retains some of the feistiness of Negan, the bad boy antagonist he plays in The Walking Dead.
The film’s biggest shortcomings include a few clichés – the coincidental relevant newscast drives me nuts – and underdeveloped antagonists. Wyden siblings Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett (Jake Lacy), the mastermind and the nervous Nellie, control genetic engineering firm Energyne, based in Chicago’s famed Willis Tower. But it’s so easy to forgive these flaws when one sees a massive gorilla pick up a tank as if it were a chair and hurl it at a helicopter.
Despite its boyish impetus (i.e. destroy stuff), Rampage earns a star for sticking up for conservation: it speaks to our children by placing a revered action hero in the role of anti-poacher/defender of animals. And it’s got MONSTERS! – Douglas J. Ogurek *****