Mutant Monsters Decimate the Windy City in Action-Oriented Sci-Fi
Hey, sci-fi fans, did you find it hard to stomach the sight of a human mating with another species in The Shape of Water, too? If so, have I got a movie that’ll wash the bad taste right out of your mouth.
Call me shallow, but I much prefer this old-fashioned monster flick. Loosely based on the video game of the same name, Rampage is reminiscent of campy Japanese classics like Godzilla (1954), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964).
But instead of decimating Tokyo, the gargantuan creatures here have their sights set on the Windy City. Another significant difference is that Rampage is a big-budget spectacular that relies heavily on CGI and state-of-the-art special F/X.
Otherwise, you know the drill. Some ordinary animals morph into mammoth, man-eating beasts in the wake of a scientific experiment gone terribly wrong. In this case, we have a wolf, a crocodile and an albino gorilla mutating into alpha predators.
The anthropomorphic primate actually has a name, George (Jason Liles). That’s because he was raised in captivity by Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), an ape-whisperer stationed in Rwanda where he heads an anti-poaching unit dedicated to the preservation of endangered species.
However, he makes a beeline to Chicago as soon as he receives word that the enormous animals have begun wreaking havoc. There, he joins forces with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a disgraced geneticist in need of redemption with access to an antidote. But before the cure can be administered, brace yourself for generous helpings of horror fare, ranging from the scaling of skyscrapers, to mass hysteria in mob scenes, to my favorite, helicopters swallowed whole.
Rampage marks the third time director Brad Peyton has collaborated with Dwayne Johnson following the equally-bombastic Journey 2 (2012) and San Andreas (2015). The capable supporting cast includes Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman and Joe Manganiello.
For all the visually captivating action sequences, what I enjoyed most about Rampage was the comic relief coming courtesy of the hero, and invariably in the middle of major mayhem, as if to remind everybody that we’re just watching a movie. After a sightseeing boat filled with tourists flips over, Davis says, “Well, that sucks.” Then, when an iconic building is flattened, it’s, “I need a drink.” And as a menacing creature unexpectedly takes flight, he matter-of-factly moans, “Of course the wolf flies.”
Not only breathtaking stunts but perfect comedic timing from a beefy action star at the top of his game!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mass destruction, brief profanity and obscene gestures
Running time: 107 minutes
Production Studios: Wrigley Pictures / Twisted Media / Flynn Picture Company
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Grieving Diplomat Returns to Kill Zone in Raw-Edged Revenge Thriller
In 1972, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) was a career U.S. diplomat delighted to be serving his country overseas in Lebanon. In fact, he and his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) were so comfortable living in the Middle East that they had decided to adopt Karim (Idir Chender), a 13-year-old Palestinian refugee.
This, despite the fact that the destabilized region had a history of easily falling into a state of unrest where warring factions remained on edge for months, if not years. As a seasoned veteran, Mason had become fast on his feet and knew to keep the lines of communication open because the fighting starts once the talking stops.
However, that philosophy proved futile the fateful day that a colleague, Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), arrived with some shocking news. He announced that Karim could be a security risk since his older brother was Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), an infamous terrorist who had just taken part in the massacre of 11 Jewish athletes participating in the Summer Olympics staged in Munich.
Before Mason had a chance to react, gunmen burst into the house and start taking hostages. By the time the dust settled, Karim had disappeared and Nadia lay dead with a bullet in her head. Therefore, Mason never got a chance to discern whether the orphan they had welcomed into the family with open arms was secretly a radical Islamist.
Fast-forward a decade, and we find the still-grieving Mason addicted to alcohol while pursuing a totally different line of work in Boston. Then, he receives word that his old pal Cal has just been kidnapped in Lebanon. It doesn’t take much for the U.S. State Department to coax him out of retirement. But can Mason lay off the booze, and does he still have what it takes to handle such a sensitive assignment?
That is the intriguing premise established at the outset of Beirut, an edge-of-your-seat, political thriller cleverly crafted by Oscar-nominee Tony Gilroy (for Michael Clayton). The picture was directed by Brad Anderson and features a topflight cast that includes Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris and Shea Whigham.
The plot thickens upon Mason’s landing in Lebanon when he learns that the mastermind he must deal with is none other than the now-grown Karim, who is willing to exchange Cal for his missing brother, rumored to be languishing in an Israeli prison. A raw, super-realistic tale of revenge set in a godforsaken kill zone not on this critic’s bucket list.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and a nude image
In English and Arabic with subtitles
Running time: 109 minutes
Production Studios: Radar Pictures / ShivHans Pictures / Kasbah – Film Tanger
Distributor: Bleecker Street Media
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening April 6, 2018
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Borg vs. McEnroe (R for nudity and pervasive profanity) Tennis docudrama, set in the summer of 1980, revisiting the fierce rivalry between mild-mannered Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and hot-headed John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) leading to their historic showdown at Wimbledon. Featuring Stellan Skarsgard, Tuva Novotny and Scott Arthur.
Isle of Dogs (PG-13 for mature themes and violent images) Stop-motion animated adventure, directed by Wes Anderson and set in Japan, about a boy (Koyu Rankin) who runs away from home and steals a plane in order to find a beloved pooch quarantined on a remote island. Voice cast includes Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Greta Gerwig and Yoko Ono.
Rampage (PG-13 for violence, mass destruction, brief profanity and obscene gestures) Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris co-star in this action comedy as scientists who save the day when three animals mutated into monsters decimate the Windy City in the wake of a genetic experiment gone terribly awry. With Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman and Joe Manganiello.
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (PG for action and mature themes) Animated adventure, set during the First World War, recounting the real-life exploits of a stray dog that was adopted by a GI (Logan Lerman) before becoming the most decorated canine in American history for his service in the trenches of France. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, with voice work by Gerard Depardieu, Jordan Beck and Jason Ezzell.
Truth or Dare (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, alcohol abuse, profanity, mature themes and disturbing content) High-body count horror flick revolving around a teen party game that turns deadly when prevaricating players get picked off one-by-one. Ensemble cast includes Lucy Hale, Tom Choi, Aurora Perrineau, Tyler Posey and Sophia Ali.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
10×10 (Unrated) Suspense thriller about a young businesswoman (Kelly Reilly) who is kidnapped and locked in a soundproof, concrete cell by a creepy identity thief (Luke Evans). Supporting cast includes Noel Clarke, Jason Maza and Olivia Chenery.
Beirut (R for profanity, violence and a nude image) Espionage thriller, set in the Eighties during Lebanon’s civil war, about a retired U.S. diplomat (Jon Hamm) coaxed back into service by a CIA agent (Rosamund Pike) to negotiate the release of a kidnapped colleague (Mark Pelligrino). With Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Douglas Hodge.
Bye Bye Germany (Unrated) Post-WWII dramedy, set in Frankfurt in 1946, revolving around the effort of a half-dozen, Jewish Holocaust survivors to raise enough money to move to America. Co-starring Moritz Bleibtreu, Antje Traue, Tim Seyfi, Mark Ivanir, Anatole Taubman and Hans Low. (In German and English with subtitles.)
Nana (Unrated) Serena Dykman makes her directorial debut with this poignant biopic recounting her Holocaust survivor grandmother’s ordeals in Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Malchow. (In English and French with subtitles.)
The Rider (R for profanity and drug use) Bittersweet biopic about rising rodeo star Brady Blackburn’s (Brady Jandreau) search for new meaning in life after suffering a near-fatal kick to the head from a horse. With Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Cat Clifford and Lane Scott.