[Screen It]


(2018) (Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: A primatologist and a geneticist try to stop three immense, genetically mutated animal monsters before they cause too much damage or kill more people as they head toward downtown Chicago.
Davis Okoye (DWAYNE JOHNSON) is a San Diego based primatologist who'd rather spend time with his captive primates, such as George the albino gorilla (motion capture performance by JASON LILES), than most humans. Unbeknownst to him, the genetic modification work conducted by the sibling executive duo of Claire Wyden (MALIN AKERMAN) and Brett Wyden (JAKE LACY) is going to change both of their lives.

When an experiment in orbit goes awry, the genetically manipulated materials fall back to earth and not only affect George, but also a wolf out west and an alligator down in Florida. That results in the latter two taking on additional qualities of other animals while also growing to immense sizes, while George remains genetically intact but is quickly heading toward King Kong size.

Not only does that draw the attention of geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (NAOMIE HARRIS) who once worked for the siblings before being fired, but also Department of Homeland Security agent Russell (JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN) who wants to find out what she and Davis know about what's transpired.

As they try to figure out what to do to contain the situation, the three monster-sized animals make their way toward downtown Chicago, causing death and destruction along the way.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
When it comes to "you shouldn't mess with Mother Nature" type movies, they arrive in a number of varieties. Some are cautionary tales about science (and scientists) and/or greedy corporations running amok and not having the proper moral, lawful and common sense checks in place to keep problems from arising.

Others use such material as the catalyst for creating nothing more than a straight-up monster(s) on the loose type story and the subsequent efforts to close Pandora's box and rein everything back in before it's too late and too much mayhem, destruction and death have occurred. And those can be split between straight-up sci-fi action flicks and those that fall squarely into camp and goofiness.

The best, of course, expertly combine the cautionary elements with the big action moments to create a thinking person's monster movie, the kind of which you don't soon forget. Presumably trying to be just that but zigzagging its way through all of the above parameters and then some is "Rampage."

It's a tale of genetic engineering and tampering that results in a trio of unfriendly critters wreaking havoc as they make their way toward modern-day Chicago, all while a muscle-bound primatologist and a disgraced geneticist try to figure out how to stop them and avoid ending up as collateral damage.

As directed by Brad Peyton from a script by Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel (who've collectively adapted the gist of the video game of the same name, this story rampages its way through a variety of genres, character types and more over the course of its far-too-long-for-this-sort-of-film nearly two-hour runtime. At its earliest core, it's the tale of a man (Dwayne Johnson) who feels more connection with animals than humans and thus has bonded with an albino gorilla named George (Jason Liles doing the motion capture bit much like Andy Serkis in the "Planet of the Apes" films, albeit in a non-speaking role, at least verbally as he does communicate via sign language).

Unbeknownst to them, the story has already started before we first meet them via a sequence that unfolds, probably to many a viewer's surprise, in Earth's orbit. We're immediately thrust into chaos aboard a space station where a killer mutant rat has laid waste to all but one crewmember who's frantically trying to get off the station, what with the rodent on the loose, spreading fires and a hull breach increasingly lowering her chances of getting back to terra firma.

Well, she doesn't, but canisters of the science experiment that was being conducted in orbit do, resulting in George, a regular old wolf out west and an alligator down in Florida coming into contact with a green mist that quickly does what it was designed to do. The science of that is never explained in any sort of believable way, but c'mon, it's a monster movie and it just needs to be present as a catalyst.

Much to Davis' shock, his gorilla buddy has noticeably grown overnight and that and the now huge wolf has not only the government concerned -- in the form of Jeffrey Dean Morgan going full-on camp playing a cowboy type DHS agent -- but also the siblings (Malin Akerman doing the one-dimensional villainous bit and Jake Lacy playing her spoiled, nervous Nellie brother, also in extreme camp mode) who run the corporation behind the experiment.

Davis ends up teamed up with a woman (Naomie Harris) who once worked for that firm and came up with the genetic splicing of animal types in hopes of curing her brother's cancer, only to find the corporate head was more interested in weaponizing that development (although that's never really explained or explored).

From that point on, it's the standard bit of the heroes trying to save the day while contending with various forces that impede that action, all as the monsters do their thing. Beyond growing big, George (of the jungle) "only" grows to Kong size, but the wolf has flying squirrel capabilities while the gator, well, is a mishmash of all sorts of stuff and emerges as the Godzilla-sized reptile villain (albeit on all fours, but surprisingly nimble for such an immense creature).

Lots of standard-issue monster mayhem follows, with impressive special effects leading the way, but ultimately -- at times -- completely overshadowing The Rock's charming persona and comedic delivery of certain lines of dialogue. In the end, it's sort of fun and entertaining like most any over-the-top monster flick, but as is also the case with such movies, it loses sizable portions of the humanity in favor of the spectacle as things move along.

So, "Rampage" is a mixed to slightly negative bag for me as it never quite seems sure what sort of film or genre combo it really wants to be, but is enjoyable enough in certain moments to avoid being a complete disaster. It rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 9, 2018 / Posted April 13, 2018

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