Rampage – film review

At one point in Rampage, Dwayne Johnson’s muscle-bound zoo keeper rides a crashed helicopter across a toppling skyscraper, pursued by a rabid, 30ft wolf… with wings. If that sentence doesn’t send you feet-stompingly giddy with delight, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Rampage is a patently preposterous, ludicrously illogical, stupendously stupid popcorn B movie. It’s also a whole lot of fun. Just not as much fun as it could have been.


The first sign that director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) might be pulling his punches is his loosey goosey approach to the source material. The original Rampage was a 1986 arcade game that saw the player control a human who had been transformed into a super-sized wolf, gorilla or crocodile. Rampage the movie is slightly more grounded. Instead, normal animals are turned into enormous, city-shattering monsters when exposed to a serum created by a shady tech company. That’s not too much of a problem when scientists carry out their tests all the way out in space; but when a lab accident blows the space station to smithereens and sends three cans of monster juice hurtling to Earth, it spells big trouble for the sibling megalomaniacs (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy) responsible for the program. Especially when one of the canisters lands in San Diego Zoo, infecting George, the albino gorilla pal of Johnson’s special forces solider-turned-primatologist Davis Okoye.


All this plot is purely functional, of course. And Peyton spends longer than necessary cobbling together what is essentially a barely coherent frame on which to unleash senses-shattering destruction on a CGI Chicago. But when it comes to the giant monster-mashing action, Peyton undoubtedly delivers. Cargo planes plummet through the clouds. Skyscrapers topple like half-mile tall dominoes. Fighter jets are snapped out of the sky and tossed at tanks. It’s all gripping and effective stuff, expertly wrangled with button-smashing abandon by Peyton.


As cartoonishly unhinged as the action is, though, it should be bigger and even sillier. Countless disaster movies have reduced cities to rubble, and Rampage rarely offers a set-piece we haven’t seen before. For a movie that features a mile-long mutated crocodile, that’s not a good look. It’s not just the action sequences that need more juice. Could it not have more gags poking fun at the absurdity of the conceit? The winged wolf is unexpectedly fun, so why can’t the other two monsters have outlandish mutations too? And is it wrong to ask that the supporting cast be hammier? After all, when you’re sharing the screen with a giant albino gorilla, the only way to stand out is to chomp kaiju-sized chunks out of the scenery. Why else would Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s government spook insist on swaggering around like a time-travelling cowboy?


That, again, might be the fault of Peyton, who misguidedly tries to give his characters unnecessary depth and backstory. We don’t care about why Okoye prefers animals to humans. Or what happened to the brother of Naomie Harris’ arbitrary sciency person. We want to see colossal monsters punching buildings; and giant gorillas riding enormous crocodiles. We want to see The Rock attempting to outrun a flying wolf. And Rampage doesn’t deliver the goods often enough.

Runtime: 107 mins (approx.)
Director: Brad Peyton
Screenwriters: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykeil
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jason Liles


Baywatch – Film Review

There was hope Baywatch would be another meta-infused, smart-yet-silly TV show remake in the mould of the Jump Street movies. Sadly, this hackneyed reboot doesn’t even come close to matching the admittedly high bar set by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Instead, it takes everything beloved about one of the 90s’ cheesiest guilty pleasures – the stunning beach vistas, mild peril and, yes, bouncing boobs – and drowns them in a tidal wave of confused plotting, clunky one-liners and clanging stupidity.


One-man charisma machine Dwayne Johnson is our David Hasselhoff surrogate, playing overzealous guardian of the sands Mitch Buchannon, who leads a crack team of impossibly attractive lifeguards tasked with saving lives on what has to be the most dangerous stretch of beach in the world. Needing to repair the division’s public image in order to secure extra funding, Mitch is forced to recruit obnoxious Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced pro-swimmer whose party boy antics earned him the nickname The Vomit Comet (and, yes, he does throw up in this movie. Twice.). Together with the rest of Mitch’s team, who appear so infrequently they’re barely worth a mention, they attempt to take down a nefarious drug dealer who’s responsible for a number of dead bodies that keep washing up on shore.


The movie is at it’s best when it’s sending up the inherently ridiculous concept of lycra-clad lifeguards fighting crime. A slick opening rescue mission, which ends with Johnson’s Mitch striding out of the ocean, a prone wind-surfer in his arms, as the title splashes down behind him in giant, gaudy letters is the standout sequence; but there’s also some decent gags aimed at the TV show’s signature use of slow-mo and a clever repurposing of actual plotlines for some of the team’s previous investigations. Disappointingly, such zingers are few and far between as the filmmakers seem to be torn between making a whip-smart spoof of the TV show or a more straightforward comedy about the importance of teamwork. It ends up doing neither particularly well.


Without a clear focus, screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift resort to relying on weak put-downs (“Bath time, shit head.”), boner gags, and occasional attempts at edginess which actually come across as tasteless missteps (“You’re like the Stephen Hawking of swimming, without the paralysis part.”). Don’t expect the story to offer much respite, though. The half-baked plot, which sees Priyanka Chopra’s sultry villainess scheming to privatise the beach so that she can sell drugs in the place she’s already selling drugs, is the kind of sub-CSI gubbins that would barely fill an episode of the TV series, and so inevitably feels overstretched for a two-hour movie. Add to that a bunch of peril-free set-pieces, not-so-surprise cameos from Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (they’re right there in the opening titles) and obvious plot twists with all-too-easy resolutions, and you’ve got a movie flapping helplessly in the water, without even a lifesaver to cling on to.

Runtime: 116 mins (approx.)

Director: Seth Gordon

Screenwriters: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra

Moana – Film Review

Thank the island goddess Te Fiti for Frozen. Before Elsa and Anna conquered the world with their beguiling tale of sisterly love, directors John Musker and Ron Clements were planning a sea-faring adventure called Maui which followed the folkloric exploits of its titular tattooed demi god, voiced by Dwayne Johnson. While that movie sounds like it could have been a lot of fun, it surely wouldn’t have been a patch on this uplifting tale of empowerment. Taking Disney’s newfound drive for Girl Power to another level, Moana taps into Polynesian culture to tell a lusciously animated tale about a 16-year-old girl searching for her place in the world.

That girl is of course Moana (voiced by astonishingly talented newcomer Auli’i Carvalho), the spirited daughter of a tribe chief who longs to revive her ancestors’ long forgotten tradition as wayfinders. Though her father insists she remains on the island to serve her people, Moana is chosen by the sea itself to reunite a mystical McGuffin with a missing goddess. With blight ravaging her village, Moana finally sees the chance to venture beyond the reef on a dangerous mission to find a legendary demi god who may be her only hope of saving her people.


If the early scenes feel slightly sluggish, Moana really finds its rhythm with the introduction of Johnson’s fishhook twirling demi god Maui. Johnson’s naturally infectious charisma works wonders here, making his bombastically boastful hero impossibly likeable even as he tries everything in his power to scupper Moana’s mission in favour of his own selfish aims. The bickering, True Grit-esque dynamic he strikes up with Moana proves to be relentlessly entertaining. “I am not a princess,” Moana stubbornly insists. “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess,” Maui immediately fires back. Like Frozen’s central pairing, it’s a relationship built on opposition and respect rather than romance, and Moana is every bit her super-powered companion’s equal, helping him to rediscover his purpose as he aides her in search of her own.

Storywise, Moana rarely strays from Disney’s time-tested formula. What’s really missing, though, is a strong sense of villainy to raise the stakes in what turns out to be a fairly underwhelming final act. An underfed environmental message fails to have the desired effect and Moana’s growing bond with Maui lacks to emotional gut-punch necessary to fully compensate.


Musker and Clements (Disney veterans responsible for such classics as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid) offer just enough visual tweaks to the traditional tropes to forgive their narrative shortcomings. Maui’s hand-drawn tattoos are a particular highlight, dancing across his cliff-face pecks like an inky Jiminy Cricket, while the sea is turned into a cheeky sentient wave that guides the heroes along their journey. There are plenty of skilfully executed set-pieces to enjoy too, including a surreal underwater confrontation with a gold-encrusted crab (voiced superbly by Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement), who battles our heroes while singing a David Bowie-inspired ditty about his love of all things shinny.

The whole movie is stuffed with such ear worming anthems, some penned by Hamilton’s all-conquering creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Maui’s slick signature song You’re Welcome is unbelievably catchy and proves Johnson can carry a tune (as if he wasn’t perfect enough already), while sweeping sea shanty We Know the Way will be the one the lodges itself in your brain for weeks to come. Moana may not be as ground-breakingly subversive as Frozen, but with its vivid animation, vibrant performances and suitcase full of irresistible tunes, it’s still a fantastic voyage that will have the whole family swept along in its mighty current.

Runtime: 103 mins; Genre: Animation; Released: 2 December 2016;

Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements; Screenwriter: Jarred Bush;

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Carvalho, Jermaine Clement

This review was first featured on FlickFeast.co.uk

The first Moana trailer promises an epic adventure

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s latest movie, Moana, is a seafaring adventure that celebrates Maui traditions through the tale of a young girl’s quest to find a fallen demigod and save her people. The first trailer is now available for your viewing pleasure.

As you have just seen, Moana stars newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as the titular heroine who amps up her quest to prove herself a master wayfinder (meaning one who controls the sea) by tracking down a fallen demigod named Maui (Johnson, obviously) and locating an ancient island.

A narrator warns that a “great danger” threatens the peaceful island Moana and her family calls home, and legend tells of a hero who will journey to find Maui and save them all.

Together, the pair embark on an adventure filled with nefarious features (some of which look deceptively cute), wide open seas, and deep dives into something called the “Realm of Monsters.”

Judging by the first look, it certainly seems like Disney may be on for another winner here with a healthy mix of dramatic peril and family-friendly humour curtesy of the mis-matched pairing of Moana and Maui.

And we still have the promise of some original music from Hamilton-star Lin-Manuel Miranda to come.

Directed by Disney legends Ron Clements and John Musker (the pair responsible for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, among other classics), Moana sets sail for US cinemas on November 23.

Central Intelligence – Film Review

Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson. With such a clever, cheeky tagline, the big screen pairing of a snack-sized Kevin Hart with man-mountain Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson held a huge amount of promise. Sadly, the ingenuity ended with the poster for this ropey, incoherent action-comedy. The mis-matched pairing of its two leads may make for a delightful, surprisingly charming double act, but Central Intelligence just doesn’t have the wit to match their infectious chemistry.

Which is a shame because there’s a great idea behind this movie. Twenty years after Johnson’s chubby dork is humiliated by high school bullies, he returns for a class reunion as a new man, having swapped the fat for muscles and landed a job as a rogue CIA agent. For Hart’s homecoming king, life hasn’t turned out quite so well. Having peaked in a senior year, he now finds himself trapped in a childless, professionally unfulfilling existence as a forensic accountant. But when the Rock bursts back into his life in need of help, it kicks off a whirlwind of spy nonsense that has something to do with a dark-web version of e-bay and satellite codes.

Central Intelligence works best when it focuses on the cool kid/fat kid dynamic of high school playing out in adult life. There’s something irresistibly amusing about The Rock acting like a nerdy, unicorn-loving chump despite looking like, well, The Rock. Hart, too, is much more appealing when playing the straight man as it forces him to dial back his usual high-pitched antics to allow his co-star to take centre stage.

But there’s only so much the unlikely double act can do when they’re working from a script as tired and lifeless as this one. Though it has its heart-warming moments – particularly as Johnson’s character faces his childhood insecurities – there’s nothing groundbreaking here. The action, while busy and well choreographed, feels bloodless and perfunctory while the jokes offer plenty of profanity and silliness but are hardly inspired. It doesn’t help that gags about Twilight and friend request etiquette are about five years out of date. The script would have benefited from a final polish to sharpen its focus, but instead the writers try to coast on the considerable charisma of their two leads without offering them enough material to make it work.

They may be enough to save the world, but it would take more than a little Hart and a big Johnson to save this shoddy action comedy.

Runtime: 107 mins; Genre: Action/Comedy; Released: 29 June 2016;

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber; Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen;

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet