Rampage

The Rock and His Gorilla Too Tough for Ivanka and Don Jr. in CGI-Bloated Video Game Film by Brad Peyton

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It must be spring, because the first CGI-fattened offering of the new year is upon us in the form Rampage, the latest vehicle for Director-Actor Team Brad Peyton and Dwayne Johnson, who last got together to bring us San Andreas.

Here’s the bottom line with Rampage – if you don’t know what a green screen is, or can’t tell when a green screen is in use, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to come away from this picture entertained. For the rest of us, the film is like watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Cool World – it’s a live-action star dropped in an animated world who proceeds to play make-believe for 90 minutes as a video game unfolds around him.

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The video-game feel this time around is somewhat forgivable, after all, the film is based on the 1980’s arcade game of the same name, one that I only played if Double Dragon was occupied, because, let’s face it, it’s pretty lame. Three monsters climb and destroy buildings. Woo-hoo.

Unfortunately for the film version of the video game, it offers 60 minutes of exposition before Peyton ever inserts the quarter and allows us to enjoy some greasy-button-gnashing fun. And fun there is to be had in Rampage, don’t get me wrong. When the CG-team behind Rampage gets it right, they really get it right, offering never-before-seen views of some very entertaining deaths. Unfortunately, for me, the rest of the film’s CG set dressing, monsters and exploding cityscapes weren’t that believable. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen massive, computerized apes done so well before in films like last year’s Kong: Skull Island, there simply is no comparison between the two graphics-wise – Skull Island is The Rock to Rampage’s Kurt Angle.

But let’s get to the script.

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The backstory-heavy plot made me look at Rampage in much the same way I viewed the Independence Day reboot, a film that eventually became campy good, and at points, hilariously entertaining as such.

Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy team up as a brother-sister villain pair, the heads of a genetics company based in Chicago that is responsible for the mutated monsters running amok. Their collective performance is a brilliant send-up of real-life villains Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., the First-Morons of America who are currently running amok themselves, helping their hapless daddy destroy democracy one unethical decision at a time. Lacy is especially spot-on, playing Don Jr. with impeccable skill. Never before has a more unintelligent, unqualified, under-prepared dunce of a character been gifted the job of movie bad-guy, but Lacy pulls it off with stunning accuracy, mocking Trump’s dufus progeny with each masterfully delivered line.

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 “You called them ‘Killers-R-Us.’ Well, he’s the us,” Akerman explains to Lacy in one particularly juicy moment of transcendent dialogue. Fortunately for Chicago, Ivanka and Don Jr. are bested in the end, as Akerman is fed to the flying wolf. Meanwhile, Don Jr. decides to run for it but ultimately meets his fate in a moment I like to call “Death-by-Dumb.” A fitting, blood-splattering end for a character that deserved to be crushed by a massive concrete slab perhaps more than any other character in the history of cinema.

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RIP Don Jr…

After the Trumpster fire is over, about 20 minutes remain, and what we get is what we expect – Rock gets shot, lives through it, tames his gorilla-gone-wild and teams up with the massive ape to take out the flying wolf and the seemingly invincible monster alligator/doliphosaurus (the venom-spitting dinosaur that killed Newman).

Peyton made a compelling disaster flick with Johnson the last time around, and he did so by bringing the action in San Andreas early and keeping it up throughout, leading us to the final spectacle with as little navel-gazing as possible. This time around, Peyton inundates us with exposition that just doesn’t matter (the stakes are already life-and-death), and scrimps with only two good action sequences before we make it to Chicago, where the action kicks into full gear.

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The two spectcale sequences we get in the interim are very fun. There is something so enjoyable about watching a group of machine-gun-toting Blackwater wannabes brutally slaughtered by an enormous, blood-thirsty wolf. And when the mutated ape George busts out of airplane jail mid-flight, the calamity ensues and we get another successful, and thrilling, CG sequence to wet our appetite for the destruction to come. Unfortunately, the two bright moments drown in a convoluted plot with uneeded backstories and the usual jump-scare tropes. If I see another character who is explicitly told not to move in the face of certain death, who then completely ignores the expert direction and runs away anyway, I’m going to rip what’s left of my hair out. Writers of Hollywood, I plead with you, please stop with these dumb-as-brick characters who do the exact opposite of what they’re told, just to conveniently bring about their own demise, or in this case, make the Rock look good for saving them from their own stupidity. I think you’re underestimating your audience.

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Finally, a warm thanks to Microsoft and Dave and Busters for the shameless product placement, we couldn’t have watched Rampage without you, and after I type this review up on my iMac, I’m headed to Red Robin to order bottle-service, eat wings, and play Nintendo for free.

So, that’s Rampage. I wait with baited breath to see what disaster scenario Peyton molds his popcorn-blockbuster around next year.

How about a Double Dragon reboot?

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