‘Rampage’ is big, dumb fun

Dwayne Johnson (left) as Davis Okoye and Jason Liles as George in “Rampage.” Contributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
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Dwayne Johnson (left) as Davis Okoye and Jason Liles as George in “Rampage.” Contributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

Dwayne Johnson has become a genre unto himself. Outfit the hulking former WWE star in a pair of cargo pants and a snug henley tee, and throw him into any extreme situation — jungle-based video game, diesel-fueled car stuntery, beach crimes, fighting an earthquake, starring across Kevin Hart — and it just works. So pairing Johnson with a giant albino gorilla in the video game adaptation “Rampage” feels right. The tagline reads “big meets bigger,” and that’s about all you need to know. Johnson, who usually dwarfs his co-stars, this time gets to feel small. It’s big, all right — big, dumb fun.

Directed by Brad Peyton, who has wreaked cinematic havoc around Johnson in “San Andreas” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” “Rampage” expands the narrative of the retro game, which involved a giant gorilla, wolf and crocodile crunching skyscrapers into dust. In this iteration, writers Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel have anthropomorphized the gorilla, who is now named George (played by motion-capture actor Jason Liles), the best friend of Davis Okoye (Johnson), a primatologist with a background in the Army Special Forces and anti-poaching activism, naturally. He runs the wildlife sanctuary in San Diego, where George makes his home.

When a spacecraft carrying research samples from a shady corporate gene-editing experiment explodes in the atmosphere scattering its tainted shrapnel across the U.S., George, a wolf and a crocodile are infected with the stuff. It causes them to grow to an enormous size and act out aggressively.

Hoping to save his friend, Davis links up with a disgraced genetic scientist, Kate (Naomie Harris), and barges right into the middle of the operation to take down these monsters that are threatening to level Chicago, Godzilla-style.

The script smashes through rapid-fire character introductions, each bigger and broader than the last. But it’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in fine fettle, who does as much structural damage as the monsters do, chewing the scenery as a swaggering cowboy of a government agent, replete with pearl-handled pistol on his hip. He relishes every sweet, honey-accented line delivery, but he too, is even upstaged, by the SuperCroc, who makes possibly the most memorable entrance of the year.

All these characters make for a movie that never slows down, but among all the mayhem, Johnson is completely lost. He doesn’t get a chance to truly show his comedy chops or acting skill, and his character is the least developed. He is, in fact, dwarfed by George, and every other hammy performance on screen. As a stupefyingly silly throwback monster movie, “Rampage” romps, but as a Johnson vehicle, sadly, it flops.

MOVIE REVIEW

“Rampage”

Grade: C

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Naomie Harris. Directed by Brad Peyton.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 47 minutes.

Bottom line: It's fun as a silly throwback monster movie