'Rampage': The Rock in a hard place | Movie review

No matter how bad things get in his recent apocalyptic action movies, action star Dwayne Johnson frequently seems in a weirdly good mood.

In San Andreas and Rampage, the Golden Gate Bridge may be falling on his head (the former), a giant alligator may be trying to eat him (the latter), but Johnson is often engagingly cheerful.

Of course now we know why: In these movies, he’s not working with Vin Diesel.

Sweet relief!

Maybe more for Johnson, though, than for us. Both San Andreas and Rampage are directed by Brad Peyton, and they share a bland disaster-movie sameness – you get a lot of Johnson flying around in a helicopter, surveying damage, trying to warn people of impending natural disaster.

The disaster in Rampage, though, is not strictly natural. An evil corporate executive (Malin Akerman) has been experimenting with for-profit pathogens that alter DNA and cause runaway growth and aggression. The pathogens get loose in the world, infecting a gator in Florida, a wolf in the Rockies, and a gorilla at the San Diego zoo where Davis Okoye (Johnson) supervises the animals. He can only watch as his prized silverback starts to get gigantic and aggressive, then is hauled off to a military base for research. Okoye tags along, as does a scientist (Naomie Harris) who thinks she can help.

Meanwhile, the wolf turns into a 10-story snarling maniac, and makes a beeline for Chicago, where Akerman’s character is luring the beasts with a special radio signal (atop the former Sears Tower) with hopes of harvesting valuable mutated DNA when the military eventually kills them.

The plot, obviously, is insane. It’s credited to four writers, and yet, working together, none managed to come up with an explanation for how the million-pound alligator swims from Florida to Chicago.

St. Lawrence Seaway, via Eastern seaboard?

Up the Mississippi River watershed, then into Lake Michigan, like the Asian carp?

It seems likely an early version of the script supplanted Chicago with an East Coast port like New York, but since the climax involves the destruction of a tall tower, that might have seemed in poor taste.

I doubt folks would take offense, though, to anything that happens in Rampage, based on a vintage video game, and with vintage special effects that recall (perhaps intentionally) the old Toho studios matinee monster movies.

The look and movement of the monsters is pretty basic, with one new wrinkle – effects artists conspire to give the gorilla an unprecedented CGI movie skill: When someone gets on his nerves, he flips them the bird. Coming soon to Instagram.

MOVIES

Rampage

    • Directed by Brad Peyton. With Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Joe Manganiello. Distributed by Warner Bros.

    • Run time: 1 hour, 47 mins.

    • Parents guide: PG-13 (violence)

  • Playing at: Area theaters