RAMPAGE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Brad Peyton

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Marley Shelton, Demetrius Grosse, Jack Quaid, P J Byrne, Will Yun Lee.

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Energyne is a scientific research company that is conducting a rogue experiment into genetic editing, a program known as CRISPR. Genetic editing basically means that the scientists take DNA from one animal and inject into another, enhancing its natural capabilities. But in 2016 US intelligence declared the process a “weapon of mass destruction” because of its potential for misuse and banned it. Because the process is illegal Energyne have been conducting their experiments in space on a space station. But when a hybrid rat runs amok the space station is destroyed.

Three canisters containing samples of the CRISPR formula crash back to Earth. One lands in the wilds of Wyoming where it infects a wolf; another crashes into the Florida Everglades where it is promptly swallowed by a crocodile; and the third crashes into the San Diego Zoo’s primate enclosure where it infects an intelligent and gentle albino gorilla named George.

George has been raised and cared for by muscle-bound primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who has taught him to communicate via sign language. Okoye is a former soldier and is now an animal lover who has little time for humans as they constantly disappoint and let you down. And George has a well-developed sense of humour as well. But once he is infected by the virus, George grows exponentially large and fierce – he even kills a brown bear – and then escapes the zoo. Davis tries to save George from being taken away by the military. He is assisted by Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris, from Skyfall, etc), a discredited former genetic engineer for Energyne, who understands what is happening to George.

The three colossal monsters – George, the wolf and the crocodile – seem drawn towards Chicago and the headquarters of Energyne by some mysterious signal. Davis and Caldwell race to find a cure for the virus before too much damage is done. They are aided and abetted, and sometimes hampered, by agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the sinister and mysterious rogue government special agent who works on the periphery, but his real agenda is unknown.

Rampage is a big, dumb and rather silly, formulaic action adventure loosely based on a popular video game from the mid-80s. However, the writers have beefed up the elements of the game for the big screen and the result is enjoyable and something of a guilty pleasure for those in the right frame of mind.

The script itself has been put together by four writers who each have their own sensibility – Ryan Engle has written pacy action films like The Commuter and Non-Stop, etc; Carlton Cuse comes from a background in television having worked on series like Lost, Bates Motel, etc, and he also wrote the earthquake themed disaster film San Andreas; Ryan J Condal (Hercules, etc); and Adam Sztykiel who comes from background in comedy having written Due Date, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, etc. The writers seem to have created an amalgam of different ideas that never quite gel into a cohesive whole. The script however throws in enough knowing references to the source to keep fans happy.

The producers themselves have engaged in a bit of genetic editing of their own as Rampage splices together elements from films such as Godzilla and other B-grade Japanese creature features, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, and it climaxes in an epic smackdown that destroys half of Chicago and brings down the iconic Sears Tower.

Rampage reunites Johnson with director Brad Peyton, who put him through his paces in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas, and he seems to know how to get the best out of his muscle-bound star. Johnson is a charismatic performer who easily pulls the crowds into the multiplexes with his films (even duds like the recent Baywatch were a box office success largely due to his presence), and here he gets to flex his impressive muscles again. He also delivers a few clever one-liners amidst the CGI-heavy carnage and has a twinkle in his eye – it’s almost as if he knows this is all rather too silly for words.

Given his recent work in the tv series The Walking Dead, it is hard to know how far we can trust Russell, but he steals several scenes effortless with his dry manner and laconic dialogue. But he also brings some energy and a sharp wit to his performance. Harris does what she can with an underwritten role. Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy play the corrupt Wyden siblings who run Energyne and who destroy the evidence of their experiments, but there is little in the way of character development here that renders both of them as little more than your usual stereotyped villains. Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike, etc) pops up briefly as a mercenary named Burke who is sent into the wilderness to track and destroy the giant wolf.

There are some great special effects here that create the creatures – the giant albino gorilla, the flying wolf and the 60-foot crocodile – and they are incorporated superbly into the live action sequences. Peyton serves up plenty of mayhem and destruction, assisted by some great special effects work. George is brought to life with some great motion capture work from Jason Liles and some clever CGI work, and he is imbued with the same sort of humanity and emotion that Andy Serkis brought to Caesar in the recent Planet Of The Apes franchise.

Rampage is an inherently silly film, but it delivers plenty of action, destruction on a grand scale and touches of humour. And it is suffused with a genuine love for and understanding of those old-fashioned creature features and B-grade sci-fi films featuring rampaging monsters created as a result of scientific experiments gone awry.

★★★

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