“That’s a big arm,” says Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, putting an adversary in a sleeper hold. “Don’t fight it.”
The same goes for this whole movie: It’s big, bloated, and, if you give in to the familiar charms of its jacked leading man, not unenjoyable. (Alternately, you could easily just let it induce a little nap.)
“Rampage,” from “San Andreas” director Brad Peyton, is based on the 1980s video game, a King Kong/Godzilla facsimile in which enormous, mutated animals decimate major cities. Because a movie has to at least aspire to more substance, we get to know David Okoye (Johnson), a San Diego primatologist whose best friend is a rare albino silverback gorilla named George (actor Jason Liles, underneath the animation of Weta Digital, the same shop responsible for the latest “Planet of the Apes” trilogy).
We know David prefers animals to people, because he shuns the attentions of a flirty grad student (Breanne Hill) to jump into his muddy Jeep and head home to his dogs. Also because a sidekick (P.J. Byrne) tells him, “You prefer animals to people.”
David’s got a close, sign-language-based relationship with George, and if you think it’s delightful to watch The Rock trade friendly trash talk with a silverback, even just a computer-generated one, you are 100 percent correct. Though not as emotionally detailed as the chimps in the “Apes” movies, George — whose favorite hand gesture involves a single finger — is impressively rendered.
And props to the screenwriters for including his origin story, which sneaks in a little education about the evils of poaching amongst all the chaos and wisecracks.
In the silliness that passes for a plot, a gene-altering program with a nefarious company called Energyne, housed in a space station to keep it from prying eyes, crashes to Earth after going horribly wrong, scattering its contents over various parts of the US — including the primate sanctuary where George lives. Soon he’s growing at an alarming rate, and behaving unusually aggressive. Elsewhere, a wolf and a crocodile are doing the same.
Enter Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“The Walking Dead”), apparently a top graduate of the Tommy Lee Jones school of sarcastic bureaucrats. “When science s–ts the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets,” his government agent Harvey Russell drawls, making a tasty meal of some atrocious dialogue. He scoops up George, David and a renegade ex-Energyne geneticist (Naomie Harris, straying about as far from her Oscar-nominated “Moonlight” role as one could) for a flight that goes awry. As you might imagine a flight containing a growing, mutated and confused gorilla would.
Enjoy Johnson and Morgan’s hamminess while you can. It’s eventually eclipsed by a series of generic CGI battles as George, the wolf (dubbed Ralph, in one of what I can only assume are multiple shout-outs to the video game’s fans) and a Godzilla-like croc advance on Chicago. The reason they’re headed to the Windy City might be the biggest howler in a movie full of them: Energyne’s villainous executives (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, both in distractingly flat hair) have turned on a sonar beacon that attracts the monsters to the company’s headquarters. Why would they do this when they’re still in the building? Might as well ask why locate your primary research lab in space.
Or why cast Joe Manganiello, playing a wolf-hunter, if you’re not going to have him take his shirt off (or make even one werewolf joke for the “True Blood” crowd). Or why not hire a punch-up writer to pen something wittier for David, emerging from a crashed helicopter, than “I need a drink.”
The best answer to any of this, as far as I can figure, is the amazing Hollywood metaphor of a giant CGI gorilla flipping the bird.