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Rampage is big and dumb and not much fun.

Cast Away

Kate (Naomie Harris), George (CGI) and Davis (Dwayne Johnson) are awestruck
Kate (Naomie Harris), George (CGI) and Davis (Dwayne Johnson) are awestruck

Sometimes it seems like zero consideration is given to how a lead character actually plays out on screen.

In Rampage, for example, Dwayne Johnson’s character, named Davis Okoye, seems to be nothing more than a collection of sticky notes randomly peeled off a whiteboard at a story meeting.

Davis is a military veteran who’s served in multiple wars and killed a lot of really bad people. Davis has a great sense of humor. Generally speaking, Davis thinks people suck. Davis, largely, is a gentle giant. Davis spends the bulk of his time at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. While there, he speaks in sign language with George. George is an albino gorilla Davis saved from the malevolent hands of poachers while in Africa. Davis shuns the romantic advances of extremely attractive female colleagues half his age. Davis likes to have his “me time” at home. Davis has big guns. Really big guns.

Oh. And have him say something cute. Something like, “Monkeys get me.”

Then again, this is a Dwayne Johnson action movie, sporting some of the same crew from towering cinematic accomplishments like San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious island, including director Brad Peyton.

At least there’s truth in advertising. Rampage is every bit the movie represented in its ubiquitous trailer.

Loquacious Monologuing

There’s a rather alarming amount of exposition used to set the stage and explain all the gobbledygook. A space station is destroyed during some dicey genetic experiments involving rats in space. An escape pod loaded with lab specimens breaks up in Earth’s atmosphere and the specimen capsules are scattered from the wild West to the East Coast. (Some of the glamorous locations include Casper, Wyoming, and Greeley, Colorado. But, yeah, there are also those go-to staples: San Diego, Los Angeles and Chicago.)

Of course, the science experiments are all part of an evil corporate plot to destroy lives and make millions in the process. Or something like that.

Part of the exposition involves Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris, Skyfall) and her sick brother. She was hoping to find a cure for his disease, but her efforts were turned to ill by Energyne (pronounced “ener-gene”), a Chicago-based lab led by the sister/brother duo of Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy, Miss Sloane).

Let’s take a break from the action — well, okay, the action hasn’t really started yet. Still getting there. Anyway, time to point out some directors get actors, some don’t. Peyton seems to be one of the latter. Akerman’s a talented actress, but here she’s merely a caricature as the evil sister. As for Lacy, his performance is an early contender for a Razzie. The category could be something like “Worst performance in a corporate role supporting an evil sister who wears the pants (suit).”

Johnson is as Johnson does. That’s all there is to say ‘bout that.

But Harris is deserving of more, as is Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TV’s Walking Dead), who makes the most of his role as an offbeat cowboy-style government agent. With a pearl pistol stuck in his pants and a drawl coached by Central Casting, he brings the humor. Mostly.

Lights... Cameras... Umm...

It takes a while — too long, actually — for the action to build as the specimens infect our friend George, a wolf and an alligator (or crocodile, whichever), causing them to turn into giant monsters. (Oh my!)

The hope is the pace — and fun — will pick up when the monsters take Chicago. Alas, the fun-o-meter registers only a wee amount of fun. In the wake of Pacific Rim back in 2013, giant monster movies need to up their game in order to compete. It’s all the more a shame Rampage lacks punch given it’s based on a videogame designed around mass destruction. The fun should be a no-brainer in this no-brainer.

For a movie so heavily reliant on CGI, the effects are unspectacular. George is well done as a giant CGI ape — as a standalone character. But there are times when his integration into real-world settings is subpar. And the giant wolf is sheer CGI hack work, without a shred of realism as it’s superimposed into the sloppy comic book action.

Punch Drunk

Maybe it goes without saying in a movie like this, but there are faults in the story’s logic. And that story was cranked out by four scribes, no doubt a creative collective as randomly assembled as Davis’ character.

For one thing, the dynamic Wyden duo wouldn’t have a prayer of containing the beasts, but they set up a bio-sonar signal from their HQ skyscraper in order to draw them into the city. It’s the sort of incompetence that’s incompetently handled. Make them buffoonish or make them pure, unadulterated e-vil. Instead, Rampage settles for lukewarm and pasty when it comes to the key ingredient of sinister machinations.

As a counter-measure, the military stages a powerful strike on downtown Chicago. Scenes of mass panic and traffic jams and miscellaneous pandemonium would seem to be in order, but no. Maybe that’s not a logic problem — it’s more likely a budget problem. It’s as if all the funds went into making George look pretty good at the expense of some much-needed human chaos and pathos.

At least there is one glimmer of punchiness in the ruckus. As with any evil genetic combination experiment, there’s an antidote. Getting that antidote into giant George’s system is a big question. And the solution is the best bit in the whole movie.

But then Rampage quickly heads back south, returning to its natural state of lowest-common-denominator everything. Following on an obscene finger gesture from George earlier in the movie, the ape makes another completely unnecessary gesture and abruptly destroys whatever residue of goodwill the movie mustered. It’s not a cute moment. It’s inappropriate and crude.