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Wheels goes on a RAMPAGE!

Wheels here with a review of The Rock's latest big-budget endeavor,
There has never been a truly great film based on a video game. Despite this, production companies continue to license video game properties hoping that their project will buck the trend. They hope that their film will be the first critical (and wide-spread commercial) success of the video game genre. 
RAMPAGE, directed by Brad Peyton (SAN ANDREAS), is not that film. Based on the classic Midway arcade game of The same name, RAMPAGE tells the story of three animals caught in a scientific mishap that renders them monstrously oversized, overly aggressive titans hellbent on destruction.
One of these animals, an albino gorilla named "George", begins the film in the care of ex-special forces soldier turned primate expert Davis Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson (THE RUNDOWN). Johnson is one of the few things about the film that works. While his character is preposterous, he approaches the role with such earnestness and charisma that you cannot help but forgive the film when it engages in silliness like Johnson speaking in sign language to a gargantuan George, trying to convince him to help him "kick ass" at the beginning of the third act.
Speaking of silliness, one of the parts of the film that also works, almost in spite of itself, is the over-the-top performance of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (WATCHMEN) as the mysterious government agent tasked with cleaning up the mess caused by our marauding monsters. He plays the character as a southern stereotype complete with pearl-handled pistol and a gigantic, cowboy belt buckle. It's the sort of performance where the character spouts old sayings passed down from his "Pappy" and uses the word "ain't" non-stop. It would all completely fall apart if Morgan wasn't so obviously having fun chewing up the scenery and rattling off his ridiculous dialogue. 
The last of our protagonists is Dr. Kate Caldwell, played by Naomi Harris (MOONLIGHT), appearing in the film to seemingly just be an exposition machine that has to talk about vague pseudoscience terms with a straight face. At one point in the film, (part of this is glimpsed in the advertising) she asks Johnson if he has heard of "genetic editing" and he responds as if that concept is as banal as brushing your teeth. 
This is where the film falls apart. Anytime the film has moments that are meant to be taken seriously, it stumbles badly. The antagonists of the story are a prime example. Played by Malin Ackerman (27 DRESSES) and Jake Lacy (television's THE OFFICE), the corporate bigwigs that funded the failed science experiment in hope of weaponizing it, spend the majority of the film watching the action and mayhem unfold over computer monitors saying dialogue like, "the pathogens are working!". These parts of the film are truly hard to sit through, as they are over-played and awkward. Their evil plan that sets the third act into motion is also one of the most contrived and poorly thought out villain plans that I've ever seen in a blockbuster-style film and that is no exaggeration. It's kind of stunning in its disregard for logic and common sense.
What about the big monster battles at the end? They are what you would expect: expertly rendered CGI spectacle. The last 35 minutes of the film are all monster destruction with tongue firmly planted in cheek, making this part of the film most representative of the source material. My one real complaint with the monster action of RAMPAGE is that the wolf and crocodile characters are poorly designed and uninteresting to look at. They definitely could have used more time in the pre-production stages to improve the looks of the creatures. I already find myself struggling to remember details of their appearance.
The action and spectacle at the end of the film are satisfying in much the same way as playing the original video game is. When the film tries to add emotional stakes on the final battle though, again the film falls short.
If you want to see giant monsters wreck a city landscape, RAMPAGE has that but it offers very little of anything else worthwhile. Whether that's enough to justify a trip to the theater is up to you. 
RAMPAGE is currently playing nationwide.
Wheels out!
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