Dwayne Johnson did a short video at this week’s critic screening of “Rampage.” He talked about playing the game as a kid. In the late 1980s my son Andy was eight or nine. We used to walk to the Columbia Center mall, have a burger and a shake and then head to the video arcade that used be there. We’d play Rampage for an hour or so. It is one of those kid growing up memories that neither of us have forgotten. We had a blast.
So is this movie.
Johnson stars as Davis Okoye. He’s a primatologist who works with an albino Gorilla named George. The ape is a gentle soul who knows sign language and has a great sense of humor. Okoye and George are family.
The plot crisis comes courtesy of brother and sister mad scientists. They’re working on genetics experiments. Home base is Chicago but the development is being done in space. Something goes awry on their secret satellite. A gas that turns ordinary creatures into gigantic and nasty-dispositioned creatures gets loose. It turns a rat into a monster that kills everyone on board.
Then the satellite comes crashing to Earth along with the canisters containing the gas.
George finds a canister inhales some of the gas. So do a crocodile and a wolf. Angry and behaving in a most primal manner, the three creatures head for Chicago and their creators. Once in the city they destroy much of the infrastructure, a bunch of buildings and wipe out a frustrated military trying to stop them.
Okoye — who just “happens” to also be retired special forces — teams with Dr. Kate Caldwell and government agent Harvey Russell to stop them. She’s a discredited scientist who helped invent the agent that turned the harmless creatures into monsters and he’s from an agency responsible for cleaning up messes the government doesn’t want anyone to find out about.
Johnson is pretty much the same character in every movie. He’s getting better at adding an occasional third-dimension to his usual two-dimensional acting. Not that it matters. He’s exceptionally charismatic so two dimensions or three, Johnson is impossible not to like.
This is true even if you never quite buy that he’s the person he’s tasked with playing and only see him as his wrestler persona The Rock.
Naomie Harris (“Spectre, Skyfall”) plays Caldwell. She’s a decent actress stuck in the any-pretty-face-can-do-this-role dilemma. Harris has very little to do but be Johnson’s helpful sidekick.
Their chemistry is so-so.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan does Agent Russell. He and George are the film’s comic relief. Morgan’s Harvey Russell pops up at perfect times delivering dry and sometimes funny lines with a sly Sam Elliott smile.
“Rampage” reminds me of those really wonderful monster movies that were churned out in bunches in the 1950s and 1960s. Most were from Japan. Godzilla, Rodan and others pulverized that nation’s cities. The U.S. monsters were atomic bomb born giant insects, blobs from space, creatures from black lagoons and others.
Director Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”) does this one fairly tongue-in-cheek but has enough drama in the plot to make it — for lack of a better definition — a pretty good monster movie. The reason is because people of all ages love movies with giant apes. We have since King Kong. Add Johnson’s magnetic personality to an easy to root for gorilla and you have monster movie perfection.
Suspend disbelief and this is a pretty good time.
Movie name: ‘Rampage’
Director: Brad Peyton
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG-13 for violence and mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Kennewick 12, Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.