The Meg review

THE MEG

Director : Jon Turteltaub
Cast : Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Masi Oka
Genre : Action/Thriller/Sci-fi
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 9 August 2018
Rating : PG-13

In 2013, Discovery Channel aired Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives as part of its Shark Week line-up. The pseudo-documentary was presented as fact, and the number of people who were initially convinced showed that at least some of us secretly want to believe that somewhere in the depths lurks a Carcharocles megalodon.

In The Meg, Jason Statham faces off with the deadly living fossil. Statham plays former rescue diver Jonas Taylor, whose claims of witnessing a sea monster attacking a nuclear submarine went disbelieved. Five years after that incident, Jonas is called on by his friend Mac (Cliff Curtis), who works aboard the research facility Mana One.

An expedition sent by the Mana One is in danger – the three-person crew of the submersible Origin are trapped 11 000 metres below the surface, threatened by a giant ancient shark. This confirms Jonas’ story, and he reluctantly undertakes the mission. Among the trapped are his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). Suyin (Li Bingbing), daughter of Dr Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), insists she can conduct the rescue herself. Meanwhile, billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) worries that the emergence of the Megalodon could jeopardise his expensive investment. As the Meg rises from the depths to threaten swimmers at the beach resort hotspot Sanya in Hainan, China, Jonas and the Mana One crew must stop the Meg’s reign of terror.

The Meg is based on Steve Alten’s best-selling 1997 novel Meg, and a film has been in various stages of development since the book was published. There’s an unavoidable amount of stupidity inherent in the material – after all, there is no shortage of cheaply-made TV movies with similar premises. If you’re in need of a laugh, look up clips of 2002’s Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, starring a hapless John Barrowman.

The Meg is like one of those movies with an exponentially larger budget, and there is some pleasure to be derived from that. Several sequences are impressively staged, and the visual effects work is generally strong. Director Jon Turteltaub attempts to keep things largely tongue-in-cheek, while also going for genuine thrills and stakes. He is only fitfully successful – the film begins feeling like it might take things somewhat seriously, then dives headlong into the ludicrous as it reaches its conclusion.

The film has high production values and boasts behind-the-scenes talent like Lord of the Rings production designer Grant Major and Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer Tom Stern. To raise the estimated $150 million budget, the film must pander to Chinese audiences, and pander it does. It’s hard to discern how much of the silliness is intentional, and how much is a by-product of tailoring the film to the (perceived) tastes of international filmgoers.

Statham plays the lead role, an indistinct roguish action hero trying to outswim a tragic incident in his past. Turteltaub noted that this is a Jason Statham movie without the requisite gunfights and car chases, and on that level, he technically is doing something different. Statham has just enough leading man charm for audiences to kinda-sorta go along with the sheer ridiculousness, at least for the first act or so.

Statham is not particularly known for his acting chops and is regularly out-acted by the leading ladies in his films. Luckily for him, that is not the case here. Li Bingbing is uniformly stiff throughout the film, unable to carry any of the emotional moments or the action beats. While Winston Chao fares a little better as her character’s father, the would-be moving scenes between the father-daughter duo fall extremely flat.

The film’s supporting characters are all thinly-drawn stock types, as one would expect from a movie of this genre. Ruby Rose plays a cool Ruby Rose-type, Rainn Wilson plays a Rainn Wilson-type (but rich), you get the idea. Page Kennedy is meant to provide comic relief, but not many of the jokes land.

Sophia Cai plays Meiying, Suyin’s daughter. She’s a precocious moppet who cracks wise and is meant to activate everyone’s protective instincts, but the character is written and acted in a largely annoying manner. Despite the film’s best efforts, imperilling Meiying won’t draw too much of a reaction from the audience, because it’s hard to care about most of the characters here.

The Meg’s CGI shark may be technically impressive, and we appreciate that the visual effects supervisor on a movie set in the ocean is named ‘Adrian De Wet’, but when it comes down to it, the titular beast is rarely convincing. There are sequences that generate a passable level of tension, but there are only so many times the movie can riff on the “barrels dragged across the surface” gag seen in Jaws.

There’s a degree of “you know what you’re getting” with The Meg: yes, it was always going to be silly, but how effectively the film leans into that silliness is up for debate. The Meg is paced briskly enough and serves up several entertaining sequences, but compared to some of this summer’s sharper, more satisfying offerings, there’s more bark than bite.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Skiptrace

F*** Magazine

SKIPTRACE

Director : Renny Harlin
Cast : Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Michael Wong, Zhang Lan-Xin, Eve Torres, Winston Chao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 22 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Skiptrace posterThe boy who cried wolf would be really great friends with the actor who cried “I’m retiring from action movies.” Jackie Chan knows which side his bread is buttered on, and is back in another action comedy, playing Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan (Chan). Following the death of Bennie’s partner (Tsang), Bennie has been pursuing billionaire Victor Wong (Zhao), whom he believes to be a criminal mastermind known as ‘The Matador’. Bennie has been caring for his partner’s daughter Samantha (Fan), the head of guest relations at a casino in Macau who gets mixed up with Victor’s thugs. Wheeler-dealer American gambler Connor Watts (Knoxville) happens to be in the casino at the same time, accidentally coming into possession of evidence that could prove Victor’s guilt. Bennie tracks Connor down to Russia, freeing him from Russian mobsters so Connor can be taken back to Hong Kong to testify against Victor. With Samantha in danger, Bennie and Connor become unlikely partners, traversing across China and racing against the clock.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan at the border

Skiptrace hasn’t had a particularly smooth production process: Sam Fell was initially set to direct the film but was replaced by Renny Harlin, Seann William Scott dropped out for Johnny Knoxville to take his place, and cinematographer Chan Kwok-Hung drowned off Lantau Island on the set of the film. Jackie himself had a near-death experience filming in a roaring Guilin river. There’s an awkward herky-jerkiness to the pacing of Skiptrace, and teaming Jackie up with a fast-talking American sidekick couldn’t reek more of Rush Hour’s leftovers if it wanted to. The plot is cliché-ridden and while there are several action sequences which showcase Jackie’s signature prop comedy fighting style, these seem awkwardly slotted in instead of unfolding organically within the plot. A fight in a Russian packing plant that sees Jackie use an oversized Matryoshka doll to fend off ex pro-wrestler Eve Torres’ generic henchwoman is moderately fun, but serves more as a reminder of Jackie’s past glories than anything else.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan on the river

Picturesque locations including China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia add a travelogue element to the bog-standard buddy action comedy premix. Bennie and Connor get mixed up with locals and are both fishes out of water as they wander through the middle of local festivals, traverse raging rapids on a raft made from inflated pig skins and play drinking games with Mongolian tribespeople. It all looks intended to make Western audiences exclaim “Oh, how exotic!” Even then, Skiptrace often looks embarrassingly cheap. A sequence in which Bennie and Connor escape their pursuers via zipline features some painfully subpar green screen work.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan in broken cart

Jackie’s no-nonsense detective driven by revenge, who is encouraged to loosen up throughout the film, is quite the bore. “It’s all the same: cop from Hong Kong, cop from China,” Jackie bemoaned of his Hollywood film roles in an interview he gave in 2004. How little things change. Knoxville gets stuffed into a trashcan, splashed with mud and has a horse defecate mere inches from his face, but then again, the former Jackass star is probably best friends with indignity. The wily American who tries to talk his way out of everything is a tired trope that Skiptrace fails to put even the slightest spin on. The dynamic between the two characters is predictable: chalk and cheese have to become unwilling partners to stay alive, overcoming initial distrust of and dislike for each other. A large amount of the comedy falls flat, but the emotional beats are absolutely dead on arrival, and there’s nothing to either of these characters for the audience to grab on to. There is a bit when Jackie performs quite the unexpected cover of a hit song that did bring a smile to this reviewer’s face.

Skiptrace Fan Bingbing and Jackie Chan

Despite getting third billing behind Jackie and Knoxville, Fan’s time onscreen is brief and she plays little more than the damsel in distress. The cardboard villains (thugs in business suits, tattooed Russian street toughs, a corrupt official or two) are unable to amount to compelling challenge for our heroes. While Harlin’s earlier filmography includes the relatively entertaining likes of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, he’s also responsible for such infamous bombs as Cutthroat Island and The Legend of Hercules. With Skiptrace, it seems like Harlin was putting together a flat-packed Ikea-esque action comedy but missed a few steps during assembly. In the grand scheme of things, the 120-minute running time is far from merciless, but this still comes off as a slog rather than a romp.

Summary: Sure, it’s impressive that Jackie Chan still kicking at 62, but Skiptrace feels long past its sell-by date, laboured and clumsily made instead of light on its feet.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong