Passion projects are something that a star can spend years working towards. Hell, some actors will degrade themselves in absolute shit to make sure a future project they love can be brought to the big screen. As such Hollywood history is littered with many actors allowing their star to take a bit of a beating just for an upcoming enterprise.
- Sir Nigel Hawthorne would agree to play Dr. Raymond Cocteau in Demolition Man (1993) to demonstrate his suitability for the lead role in The Madness of King George (1994); a role for which he would win a BAFTA and obtain an Academy Award nomination for Leading Actor.
- Christopher Reeve agreed to do Superman IV: A Quest for Peace (1987) just so he could get $5 million to do (the far superior) Street Smart (1987).
- And in exchange for funding her romantic comedy, Hope Floats (1998), Sandra Bullock signed up for Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) (I’m pretty sure the $11 million dollar salary helped too!)
But in the run up to the release of Rampage, I just couldn’t work out why Dwayne Johnson would, not only agree, but even want to do a film like this. He clearly doesn’t need the money and Rampage is not a particularly well-known or popular franchise, especially as it’s based on a videogame series that hasn’t even seen a release since 2006.
So surely Johnson must be debasing himself so he can get the funding for some major passion project? Maybe he wants to play a great historical figure? Or to do a small indie drama that just needs a little extra backing?
But apparently I was wrong, because it turns out, Rampage IS his passion project.
Yep, due to his love for the videogame back when he was 13-years-old, Rampage is apparently the movie that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has spent his entire career building towards.
Once again… Dwayne Johnson’s passion project is a movie about a giant gorilla destroying a city.
Apparently wonders never cease.
An accident aboard an outer space research station results in three canisters containing a dangerous pathogen crashing to earth. One of them falls into a San Diego wildlife preserve, releasing the hazardous substance and infecting George (Jason Liles), a 7-foot tall albino gorilla.
George slowly grows larger and more aggressive, causing much distress in his human carer, primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson). Okoye is soon contacted by Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a geneticist who informs him that the pathogen was created by Energyne, a gene manipulation company led by uncaring CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman).
As George starts losing control, Okoye teams up with Dr. Caldwell and government agent, Harvey Russell (Jeffery Dean Morgan) to try and stop the rampaging beast.
Unlike recent videogame adaptations like Tomb Raider, Rampage does not have the luxury of having an intricate backstory or storyline upon which to base itself. This arguably ends up being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re free to take the story in any direction they want. But on the other, was this seriously the most plausible thing they could come up with?
Yes, Rampage is quite literally the most ludicrously-presented idea since someone thought it was believable to cast Denise Richards as a booty shorts-clad nuclear physicist. Thank God then for Johnson, who dedicates every bit of acting muscle he has to keeping this CGI extravaganza moving, and ends up bringing a surprisingly large amount of pathos to his relationship with George. Yes, it’s weird that his character’s BFF is a giant murderous gorilla; but hey, considering this summer’s going to have Jason Statham go one-on-one with a giant shark, in comparison the Rampage filmmakers have been rather restrained!
To be fair, taking any of this seriously is an exercise in futility. And the filmmakers seem to have agreed with this train of thought, at least when it comes to the actual plan of the villains. Though Åkerman and her dimwitted on-screen brother (played by Brett Wyden) are suitably evil enough, their actual plan regarding these colossal creatures is left completely unexplained, leaving the audience in a state of utter apathy as to how this plotline resolves. Essentially they are evil purely because this movie needs the audience to hate someone, and in turn hopefully overlook all the murdering the aforementioned giant murderous gorilla is doing.
There’s an inkling that perhaps the filmmakers were going for an approach similar to 1999’s The Mummy. Essentially a thread of seriousness surrounded by comedic hi-jinks and action. But Rampage never quite pulls off that balance of tone, with several scenes being deadly serious, while others are as campy as a Carry On movie.
Though most of the actors don’t make much of an impression, the one saving grace is Walking Dead actor, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He knows that this is exactly the type of movie you don’t take seriously. As such we get him exuding self-assured swagger every time he appears; and in the end he steals every scene in a way reminiscent of the late Alan Rickman in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
In the end, Rampage isn’t going to be winning any awards. It’s an over-the-top idea executed in an equally overblown manner. But switch off your brain before going in and you end up with a disposable goofy monster movie worthy of a Friday night watch.
Photos © Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC via IMDb