I honestly want to be a Dwayne Johnson fan, but the guy doesn’t make it easy. For the past couple of years, the actor formerly known as The Rock has been one of Hollywood’s biggest (and highest compensated) stars. It’s not something I ever would have expected a decade ago when Johnson was making the uphill transition from the wrestling ring to the big screen. But his thousand-watt charisma and crack comic instincts are undeniable. He’s likable and talented and has the best cocked-eyebrow smirk since Roger Moore ordered a shaken martini. But man, does he need to vet these scripts he’s agreeing to a little more closely. His latest misfire, the ridiculous ape-amok action flick Rampage, is his third disappointment in a row, hard on the heels of Baywatch and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Someone needs to stop the bleeding, stat.
Johnson plays a strapping special-forces soldier-turned-primatologist (sure, why not?) named Davis Okoye. Davis works with animals at a San Diego wildlife preserve, where as one big primate to another, he has a special connection to apes in captivity. Especially a playful and super-intelligent albino gorilla named George, who he’s taught not only to use sign language but also to flip the bird and make the finger-in-hole motion for sexual intercourse. What a scamp! But when a rogue experiment to super-size and weaponize animal DNA in space goes wrong, some canisters of radioactive go-go juice crash to Earth and mutate the animals that come into contact with it, making them extremely large and extremely ticked off.
One lands somewhere in Wyoming and turns a wolf into a mangy, 30-foot-tall lupus giganticus; one lands in the Everglades and turns a crocodile into something out of a lesser Godzilla movie; and a third lands at Davis’ facility, infecting George, who quickly doubles in size and turns violent, tearing up grizzly bears and cities, whipping cars around like tub toys. Attempting to save George, Davis teams up with a scientist who unwittingly worked for the company behind the evil space experiments (Naomie Harris, deserving better). Meanwhile, the military comes storming in painted for some insane reason as reactionary bad guys. I was totally on their side. Especially since the main one is played by a rascally, rootin’-tootin’ Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who’s the only person on screen who seems to a.) be having any fun, and b.) understand exactly what kind of ludicrous trash he’s in. I would have gladly watched a movie just following his character.
But alas, this is a movie about one haunted gentle giant’s bond with another haunted gentle giant. And it never makes up its mind whether it wants to be a what-hath-science-wrought disaster movie like those old John Sayles cheapie classics Piranha and Alligator, or just a big, dumb, and loud tongue-in-cheek action comedy. It’s a movie that’s afraid to pick a lane. Then again, maybe it doesn’t have to. After all, Johnson seems to have a seemingly bottomless reserve of good will with moviegoers. I’m happy for him. But if he’s not careful, it may run out sooner than he thinks. C-