Rampage movie review

For inSing

RAMPAGE

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton
Genre : Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 12 April 2018
Rating : PG13

Rampage-posterDwayne Johnson, arguably the closest thing this generation has to 80s action heroes like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, shares the screen with monsters who dwarf even him in this creature feature.

Johnson plays Davis Okoye, an Army Special Forces soldier-turned primatologist working at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. George, an albino silverback gorilla with whom Davis shares a close bond, begins growing and displaying violent, erratic behaviour. George has come into contact with a mutagen developed by Energyne, after a genetic splicing experiment conducted aboard a space station goes horribly awry.

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Geneticist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a former Energyne employee, arrives to help Davis deal with George’s mutation. In the meantime, a wolf and an alligator have also been exposed to the mutagen. As the creatures become ever fiercer, government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) attempts to control the situation, while butting heads with Davis and Kate. The pair must foil the dastardly plans of Energyne’s head honchos Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman) and her doltish brother Brett (Jake Lacy), who draw the creatures to Chicago where they will wreak untold havoc.

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Rampage is based on the classic arcade game of the same name. In the original game, players controlled one of three mutated, formerly-human monsters, causing as much destruction as possible to proceed to the next level. There was not much in the way of plot, and there didn’t need to be.

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The plot in the Rampage movie serves little purpose other than to fill time and justify the giant monster action sequences. The film reunites Johnson with Brad Peyton, who directed him in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. Like San Andreas, there is plenty of disaster movie mayhem on display in Rampage, but while it was a little uncomfortable watching that movie right after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, the wanton destruction is easier to enjoy in Rampage, given that there haven’t been any giant gorilla, wolf and alligator attacks in major metropolises lately.

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The visual effects work, especially on George, portrayed via motion capture by Jason Liles, is excellent. When the giant monsters are onscreen, which is the case for a significant portion of the film, things are entertaining and silly. There are some violent moments which push the PG-13 rating and it’s hard not to derive some joy from that. Even then, the city-levelling climactic action sequence can get a little numbing. Anything involving our human characters is tedious, thanks to stock back-stories and cringe-worthy exposition-laden dialogue. “It’s going to be a lot more emotional, a lot scarier and a lot more real than you’d expect,” Peyton said of the film when it was announced. Alas, Rampage is none of those.

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Dwayne Johnson delivers the performance one would expect: that of the charismatic, larger-than-life action hero who’s here to save the day. It’s nothing different from what we’ve seen before, but it gets the job done and he’s good at this stuff. Davis shares quite a bit in common with Jurassic World‘s Owen Grady: they’re both former military men who work with dangerous animals and have bonded with one creature under their care. Johnson tries to sell the relationship between Davis and George, and while that is never emotionally affecting, Johnson can’t be faulted for it.

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Harris’ Dr Kate Caldwell comes complete with a groan-inducing motivation for getting back at the company that’s done her wrong. Harris tries to make the material work, but the film seems to struggle with figuring out what purpose her character serves for most of the movie.

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Rampage is at its cheesiest not during the monster attack sequences, but when it turns its attention to the villainous Wyden siblings. Claire is coolly evil while her brother bumbles about in the background. While both Åkerman and Lacy look to be enjoying themselves, neither is ever actually threatening, and the cartoonish nature of their performances undercuts the stakes of the monster madness.

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan drawls his way through a reasonably fun supporting part as a shadowy government agent, while Joe Manganiello shows up very briefly as a private military contractor. Everyone’s playing to type, and Rampage contains frustratingly little in the way of surprises or spontaneity.

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Nobody can accuse Rampage of not delivering the all-out giant monster goods, but the movie stops considerably short of being the expertly-made escapism it could’ve been. There’s a tonal struggle between being ridiculous and being earnest that Peyton lacks the skill to reconcile. Rampage doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, but its clumsy attempts at emotional beats and its predictable, store-bought monster movie plot stand in the way of it being truly entertaining.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Incarnate

For F*** Magazine

INCARNATE 

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Aaron Eckhart, David Mazouz, Carice Van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Matt Nable, Carolina Wydra, Emjay Anthony
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : PG13 (Horror and Some Coarse Language)

incarnate-posterWhatever you do, don’t call Dr. Seth Ember (Eckhart) an ‘exorcist’. What others call ‘demons’, he calls ‘parasitic entities’. It’s all strictly scientific, and Ember isn’t affiliated with any religious organisation. When the Vatican sends Dr. Camilla Marquez (Moreno) to engage his services, Ember wants nothing to do with it. However, he is enticed by the possibility that the case is connected to the death of his wife and son, the same apparent accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. 11-year-old Cameron Sparrow (Mazouz) is possessed by an arch-demon. His recently-divorced parents Lindsay (Van Houten) and Dan (Nable) fear for their son’s life, as it becomes obvious that something evil has taken him over. Ember must dive into Sparrow’s subconscious to forcibly oust the entity, but will his own demons get the better of him?

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Incarnate is the latest horror flick from producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse, who partnered with WWE Studios on this one. It’s easy to see why Blum was drawn to the project: what savvy producer would pass up a film with the logline “Inception meets The Exorcist”? Unfortunately, Incarnate is less than the sum of its parts.

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This reviewer’s interest was initially piqued by the psychological thriller spin put on the usual supernatural horror formula: Dr. Ember proclaims himself to be a man of science, adamant against running errands for the Vatican. The execution is clumsy, with Dr. Ember’s assistant Riley (Emily Jackson) uttering the line “each of us is like a wifi hotspot” in one of those “explain the technical concept to a layperson” exposition scenes. All the imagery associated with demonic possession – bodies flying across the room, pupils turning inky black, a deep spooky voice emanating from a child, and black acid spewed from the mouth – is stuff genre aficionados will find overly familiar.

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While Eckhart does invest effort in playing the haunted shell of a man that is Dr. Ember, the character never becomes more than a mere assemblage of clichés. He’s a shadow of his former self, shattered after the trauma of losing his family. Eckhart apparently went method, disguising himself as a wheelchair-bound, mentally ill war veteran to yell at passers-by at Venice Beach in California. We can’t say all that effort was worth it. There is a neat device here, though: when we see Ember in reality, he’s dishevelled, but when he enters his patients’ subconscious, he’s clean-shaven and has the use of his legs.

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Mazouz plays the creepy kid, bringing nothing new to the table. He’s a fine actor, but we’ve seen all the intense staring and glowing eyes before. This comes right on the heels of Ouija: Origin of Evil, in which Lulu Wilson made for a far scarier possessed child. DC Comics fans might find it amusing that Two-Face is exorcising young Batman, seeing as Mazouz plays Bruce Wayne on Gotham. As a bonus, Cameron’s dad is played by Ra’s al Ghul from Arrow. Yes, this is how we kept ourselves amused through the dullness of Incarnate.

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Both female leads are talented performers: we know Van Houten from Game of Thrones, and Moreno was nominated for an Oscar for Maria Full of Grace, her first film role. Neither gets very much to do, which can’t help but feel like a waste. Ember’s assistants Oliver (Keir O’Donnell) and Riley are supposed to add some personality to the proceedings, but they’re more than a little ridiculous. It’s as if director Brad Peyton thought that if Oliver had tattoos and Riley wore necklaces and a beanie, they’d automatically be hip and with it.

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Incarnate promises a mind-bending take on the supernatural horror formula, but has no tricks up its sleeves. The twist is easy to see through since it’s clear what the film’s influences are, and we get a cop-out ending as the cherry on top. Blumhouse is always on the hunt for a new horror franchise, but we hope they let this one lie. Then again, maybe they’ll pull an Ouija: Origin of Evil and make a killer follow-up.

Summary: You’ll leave the theatre thinking “we should have gone deeper”. Inception with demons should be a whole lot more gripping than this.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

San Andreas

For F*** Magazine

SAN ANDREAS

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Colton Haynes, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Todd Williams, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue, Will Yun Lee
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 28 May 2015
“We all have our little faults,” Lex Luthor told Superman in the 1978 film. “Mine’s in California.” In this disaster thriller, that “little fault” leads to big problems as the entire US west coast is crippled by a devastating earthquake of unprecedented magnitude. Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Johnson) has to save his estranged wife Emma (Gugino) and the couple have to put aside their differences in order to reach their daughter Blake (Daddario). Blake is trapped in San Francisco alongside Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his kid brother Ollie (Parkinson), Ben interviewing for a position at the office of superstar architect Daniel Riddick (Gruffudd), Emma’s new boyfriend. Meanwhile, CalTech seismology professor Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) has been working on a system to predict earthquakes and is determined to get the word out so as many lives can be saved before the destruction escalates.

            Let’s address the elephant in the room: Nepal has recently been hit by two major quakes, the death toll now exceeding 8500. The marketing for San Andreas has been tweaked with an emphasis on earthquake preparedness and donating to the relief effort, with a portion of the movie’s takings set to be donated to Nepal. Still, it’s understandable that very few audiences, if any, will find harrowing devastation in this specific context very entertaining. It’s a little like when the kids-on-a-space-shuttle adventure Space Camp was released two months after the Challengerdisaster. In fact, it leads one to wonder if a movie like San Andreas was ever a good idea, even before the Nepal tremblor, given the tragic frequency with which such calamities occur these days.


Big summer blockbusters are meant to provide escapism rather than continually remind viewers of the problems that plague the world in real life. Post-9/11, many action flicks have deliberately invoked the imagery of collapsing buildings and citizens scrambling away from falling debris in the hopes of eliciting an emotional response through mere association with actual tragedies, which seems to be the case here too. The Catch-22 faced by director Brad Peyton is that if the events depicted in the film are too fanciful and ridiculous, it will pull audiences out of it, but if they are too realistic, it will hit too close to home.

            The phrase “destruction porn” has been tossed about derisively in reference to blockbusters like Man of Steel and just about everything in Roland Emmerich’s filmography. Let’s call a spade a spade – San Andreas is destruction porn. We don’t mean this sanctimoniously; wanton carnage has always been one of the main ingredients in creating large-scale spectacle. It’s worth acknowledging the effort made to craft inventive, thrilling sequences and the amount of work involved in creating the digital deluge must have been mind-boggling. All credit to the armies of artists at visual effects houses Scanline, hy*drau”lx, Method Studios, Cinesite and other vendors for their work here. The scale is suitably epic but one can’t help but have the niggling sense of hollow artificiality throughout. Moviegoers have become harder to impress and even with rippling seismic waves tearing through the L.A. city centre and cargo ships lodged in skyscrapers, San Andreas is rarely truly impressive. The 3D conversion is also something of a let-down.

            When it comes to the plot, San Andreas is predictable to, well, a fault. The involvement of at least six screenwriters performing multiple studio-mandated rewrites ensures that the script is safe, homogenised and dull. Paul Giamatti, playing a seismology professor as if the character were a scientist from a ‘50s creature feature, warns “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” We also counted at least nine utterances of the line “oh my god!” (mostly from Carla Gugino). Every disaster movie cliché in the book is flung into San Andreas, as well as clichés from other genres for good measure. You’ve got the strong, hardworking protagonist, his estranged wife, the wealthy douchebag who is his wife’s new boyfriend, the daughter who needs to be rescued but who is largely plucky and capable when required, the daughter’s earnest, handsome love interest and the tagalong kid for comic relief. Oh, and the protagonist has already lost one child in an earlier rafting accident. This doesn’t feel like it needed six writers, it feels like all it took was an algorithm fed into some kind of automated writing software.

            Dwayne Johnson reunites with Peyton, who directed him in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The wrestler-turned-action-hero can do the noble, heroic thing in his sleep by now. Carla Gugino spends most of the movie yelling. Alexandra Daddario is the “damsel in a degree of distress”, competent but still in need of dad coming to the rescue. It’s all just tired and cheesy. Hollywood, it’s time to rewrite the disaster movie formula, and no amount of tsunamis smacking shipping crates into the Golden Gate Bridge can distract us from that dire need.

Summary: San Andreas manages to out-‘90s most ‘90s disaster flicks, unintentionally funny in how dated and corny despite several well-crafted set pieces.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong