THE MEG

Empire (UK) - - PREVIEW - CHRIS HE­WITT

★★ OUT NOW CERT 12A / 113 MINS

DI­REC­TOR Jon Turteltaub

CAST Ja­son Statham, Li Bing­bing, Rainn Wil­son, Ruby Rose, Jes­sica Mc­namee

PLOT When a deep-sea re­search team dis­cov­ers the ex­is­tence of a mega­lodon — a 70-foot, sup­pos­edly ex­tinct shark — they face a des­per­ate race against time to stop it from eat­ing ev­ery­thing.

IT MAY NOT shock you to hear this, but The Meg — a movie that ap­par­ently ex­ists just so peo­ple can make jokes about Ja­son Statham punch­ing a gi­ant shark — is a bad film.

What’s im­por­tant, though, is to dis­cern the level of in­tent from di­rec­tor Jon Turteltaub and his team. Have they gen­uinely stunk the joint out de­spite their best ef­forts? Or are they try­ing to have their cake and eat it too by mak­ing a know­ingly aw­ful film, a so-bad-it’s good, ready-made cult clas­sic? In short, are they in on the joke?

Wor­ry­ingly, apart from a cou­ple of mo­ments — one in­volv­ing a very small dog and a very big fish, and the very last shot — the an­swer seems to be, “No.” If Turteltaub had gone all-in on mak­ing this an over­sized, toothy take­down of shark movies, The Meg could have been a win­ner. As it is, he’s made a film about a shark as big as a foot­ball pitch that still some­how com­mits the car­di­nal sin of be­ing bor­ing. It’s merely a com­pen­dium of leaden ac­tion se­quences and ter­ri­ble di­a­logue that could have been el­e­vated to kitsch (“That liv­ing fos­sil ate my friend!”) had it been de­liv­ered by ac­tors who were up to the task. Sadly, it’s not. While Rainn Wil­son at least seems to be hav­ing fun as the bil­lion­aire bene­fac­tor be­hind the project, he’s the only one. Most of the cast, from Cliff Cur­tis to Li Bing­bing, are sad­dled with roles that can barely be de­scribed as archetypes. Not even The Stath, the pa­tron saint of pulp, growl­ing his way through pro­ceed­ings as res­cue­div­ing ace Jonas Tay­lor like he’s play­ing some weird combo of Quint, Brody and Hooper, makes much of a dent.

Speak­ing of Jaws, Turteltaub knows that com­par­isons are in­evitable so wisely, one shark-cage mo­ment aside, largely gives Spiel­berg’s clas­sic a swerve. Rightly so, as it’s not fit to splash around in the same wa­ter. In­stead, the shark movie to which this owes the big­gest debt, right down to cer­tain char­ac­ter types and the odd death scene, is Renny Har­lin’s schlock­buster Deep Blue Sea. But that was a know­ingly aw­ful film that ef­fort­lessly nailed the en­ter­tain­ing edge-of-in­san­ity tone. In­stead, The Meg trails lazily in its wake, con­stantly re­mind­ing you — just as Sky­scraper did with The Tow­er­ing In­ferno and Die Hard — that there are bet­ter films of its ilk that you could be watch­ing in­stead.

It’s not all bad. Turteltaub and his writ­ers, who sur­pris­ingly ap­pear to be real hu­man be­ings called Dean Ge­or­garis, Jon Hoe­ber and Erich Hoe­ber, and not Siri and Fi­nal Draft Au­towrite, at least try to keep things mov­ing at a fair old lick, shift­ing the ac­tion from a claus­tro­pho­bic base to the open sea and throw­ing in tele­graphed twists ev­ery now and again just to keep things vaguely in­ter­est­ing. Statham also has some lovely scenes with young Chi­nese ac­tress Shuya Sophia Cai, as the daugh­ter of Bing­bing Li’s ace sci­en­tist. But you don’t come to a movie like this for char­ac­ter

de­vel­op­ment. Movies like this laugh in the face of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and nib­ble the legs of arcs. Movies like

The Meg ex­ist to de­liver never-be­for­e­seen spec­ta­cle.

And the idea of a mas­sive shark chomp­ing down on boats, hol­i­day mak­ers, build­ings, any­thing it can get its teeth on, is a tempt­ing one. It maybe also ex­plains why Hol­ly­wood has been so keen to adapt Steve Al­ten’s novel for over 20 years, with var­i­ous film­mak­ers hav­ing a go be­fore mov­ing on to less choppy wa­ters. But when it comes to the ti­tle star, The Meg dis­ap­points. Turteltaub has worked with Nico­las Cage three times, so knows a thing or two about not hold­ing back your star when they want to get their teeth into the scenery, so shows the shark in all its glory fairly early on. Sadly, the ef­fects rarely rise above Shark­nado level, and the mega­lodon is so big, it ac­tu­ally proves dif­fi­cult to get The Stath and his co-stars into sit­u­a­tions where they can in­ter­act with it, and im­pose them­selves upon it, in a mean­ing­ful way. Like Godzilla and

Ram­page be­fore it, you get the sense the hu­man char­ac­ters are just in­signif­i­cant specks to the mon­ster. They’re gonna need an even big­ger boat.

Does that mean that Ja­son Statham doesn’t punch a gi­ant shark? We wouldn’t dream of spoil­ing it, but let’s just say if

The Meg’s gi­ant tongue had been lodged in its gar­gan­tuan cheek a touch more, this could have been this year’s great­est guilty plea­sure.

Still, de­spite its huge flaws, it’s been one of the big­ger hits of a rel­a­tively luke­warm sum­mer, and with sev­eral more nov­els in the se­ries by Al­ten to adapt, with ti­tles such as Hell’s Aquar­ium and Night Stalk­ers, Team Meg will surely have an­other big bite at nail­ing that tricksy, elu­sive tone. On its own terms, though, The Meg is fur­ther proof of that old adage: you can’t make a silk purse out of a shark’s fin.

VER­DICT Shark. Weak.

It’s be­hind you! The Stath dices with a dumb death.

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