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‘Rampage’ (review)

Produced by Brad Peyton, Beau Flynn,
John Rickard, Hiram Garcia
Screenplay by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse,
Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Story by Ryan Engle
Based on Rampage by Midway Games
Directed by Brad Peyton
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris,
Malin Åkerman, Joe Manganiello, Jake Lacy,
Marley Shelton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

 

I work in marketing in my day job.

I know the value of focus groups (hint: not very). Studies have shown that focus groups can lead to groupthink and even reinforce poor decisions.

Decisions like investing large sums of money on a movie based on a 1986 video game that, while certainly popular at the time, failed to spawn any meaningful follow-ups.

Nevertheless, Rampage roars into theater this week. And while I’m sure the focus group Warner Bros. enlisted checked “yes” to the question, “would you pay to see a movie that’s equal parts Jurassic Park, Independence Day and repurposes the plot of Commando?”, the bottom line is that the 33 million Warner shelled out to Midway Games in 2009 for the rights to produce a Rampage movie probably had to be justified, one way or another.

But Warner Bros. did a smart thing.

They hedged their bets and hired Duane “The Rock” Johnson. After all, if a ginormous lizard, wolf and ape banding together and bashing the hell out of downtown Chicago can’t make your video-game adaptation profitable, perhaps a primatologist-playing Rock can.

There are some nice moments between Johnson and George, the albino CGI ape. Their playful banter and sign communications help establish a partnership that plays a role as action progresses. Once George and the other animals become infected by crashing satellite space debris (Jello warned us!), sibling supervillains Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, respectively) set a sonic signal that sends the creatures into a ravenous frenzy on a mission to destroy the source of the sound. Why they chose to place the beacon on the top of their company headquarters in downtown Chicago is a mystery we’ll all have to assume will go unanswered.

Corporate scheming plot holes aside, Johnson teams up with Dr. Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris. Dr. Caldwell is presumably the only person capable of reversing the effects on the animals, being that she invented both the serum and the antidote. Their plan runs amok as they are taken captive by government goon Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who basically does a Negan redux except with a slower, southern drawl. It’s as irritating as it sounds.

A plane crash and an abrupt segue concerning the darkness of the human heart later, Morgan switches to insta-goodguy and helps our heroes get back on track to Chicago. Their mission is to find the antidote at company HQ and find a way for the animals to ingest it.

Once the third act gets underway, Rampage does deliver on some capital carnage and a few genuine laughs. It’s good fun if you can leave your mind at the door and just go with the flow.

The issue is you have to get through the first two acts, where the film suffers from the identity crisis of being a slow-developing 80s-inspired action movie, a light-hearted buddy comedy and a conservation message film.

There’s also problematic editing over Johnson’s dialogue about the evils of poaching. The flashback shows black, African men as poachers but without any mention of a capitalist system that exploits the poor and creates demand for poached items in the first place. If there’s one thing that the success of Black Panther has proven is that audiences are capable of understanding the nuances of duality. Rampage writers Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan Condal and Adam Sztykiel should work to avoid damaging, simplistic stereotypes in their future scripts.

Rampage is a product of groupthink and our nostalgia culture run amok. And much like the original video game, this franchise will be hard pressed to produce a meaningful sequel; especially at a 120 million dollar price tag.

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