For a review of “Rampage,”
Dwayne Johnson has become a genre unto himself. Outfit the hulking former WWE star in a pair of cargo pants and a snug henley tee, and throw him into any extreme situation— jungle-based video game, dieselfueled car stuntery, beach crimes, fighting an earthquake, starring across Kevin Hart— and it just works. So pairing Johnson with a giant albino gorilla in the video game adaptation “Rampage” feels right. The tagline reads “big meets bigger,” and that’s about all you need to know. Johnson, who usually dwarfs his co- stars, this time gets to feel small. It’s big all right— big, dumb fun.
Directed by Brad Peyton, who has wreaked cinematic havoc around Johnson in “San Andreas” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” “Rampage” expands the narrative of the retro game, which involved a giant gorilla, wolf and crocodile crunching skyscrapers into dust. In this iteration, writers Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel have anthropomorphized the gorilla, who is now named George ( played by motion- capture actor Jason Liles), the best friend of Davis Okoye ( Johnson), a primatologist with a background in the Army Special Forces and anti- poaching activism, naturally. He runs the wildlife sanctuary in San Diego, where George makes hishome.
When a spacecraft carrying research samples from a shady corporate gene- editing experiment explodes in the atmosphere — Marley Shelton appears in this delightfully bonkers riff on “Alien,” with a giant space rat— scattering its tainted shrapnel across the U. S., George, a wolf and a crocodile are infected with the stuff. It causes them to grow to an enormous size, act out aggressively and take on the genetic qualities of other animals, like rapid cell regeneration, or exploding porcupine quills, or, you know, flying.
Hoping to save his friend, Davis links up with a disgraced genetic scientist, Kate ( Naomie Harris), and barges right into the middle of the operation to take down these monsters that are threatening to level Chicago, Godzilla- style.
This is a B- movie monster flick starring quite possibly the biggest movie star ( or at least the most profitable) in the world, and “Rampage” knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to be anything other than that. It has a decidedly 1990s feel, self- aware, quippy, loaded with archetypes.
The script smashes through rapid- fire character introductions, each bigger and broader than the last. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy are a pair of hilarious villains, the sneeringly evil sibling corporate bigwigs. But it’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in fine fettle, who does as much structural damage as the monsters do, chewing the scenery as a swaggering cowboy of a government agent, replete with pearl- handled pistol on his hip. He relishes every sweet, honey- accented line delivery, but he too, is even upstaged, by the SuperCroc, who makes possibly the most memorable entrance of the year.
All these characters make for a movie that never slows down, but among all the mayhem, Johnson is completely lost. He doesn’t get a chance to truly show his comedy chops or acting skill, and his character is the least developed. He is, in fact, dwarfed by George, and every other hammy performance on screen, his presence shockingly overshadowed, his usually radioactive charisma dimmed. Asa stupefyingly silly throwback monster movie, “Rampage” romps, but as a Johnson vehicle, sadly, it flops.
“Rampage,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG- 13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures. Running time: 107 minutes.★★
“Borg vs. McEnroe”
The sport of tennis is inherently dramatic, at once meditative and explosive, a study in individual struggle and triumph. Personality tics and habits under extreme pressure and stress are laid bare for the whole world to inspect, with all eyes focused on the court. The rivalry of Björn Borg and John McEnroe, which came to a head at the 1980Wimbledon final, pitted perfection against passion and captivated the world. Janus Metz’s film, “Borg vs. McEnroe,” following the events leading up to the match, takes the clash of the tennis titans to operatic new heights.
The rivalry between the two players made for splashy, fun tabloid fodder, but Metz, with writer Ronnie Sandahl, has given the story an intensely dramatic, psychological treatment. The thesis of the film is that for all of the ways in which Borg ( Sverrir Gudnason) and McEnroe ( Shia LaBeouf) were polar opposites — the methodical and controlled Swedish “Ice Borg,” and the fiery, hot-tempered New “Superb rat ”— they were far more alike than different.
Sandahl’s script explores the childhood circumstances that shaped the players, but dives deeply into Borg’s background focus. as a young tennis LaBeouf is perfectly cast phenom in Sweden ( played as the brash, trash- talking by Borg’s real son, Leo, himself McEnroe, which is a role perfectly a tennis player, who suited to his lovable gives a startlingly great performance loudmouth skillset ( honed on in his debut role). the Disney Channel show He made waves in youth “Even Stevens”). Although it leagues with his own tantrums sits right in his wheelhouse, — highly frowned LaBeouf makes it a thoughtful upon in this “gentleman’s and lived- in performance, sport”— but his energy and not just a caricature. drive to win were indisputable, Although this is a film largely and soon he was about Borg, LaBeouf as plucked out of a suspension McEnroe just about steals it. to be groomed as one of the But Swedish actor Gudnason greats by his coach, Lennart maintains a firmhold on Bergelin ( Stellan Skarsgard). the narrative as the almost As a coach, Bergelin stoked impossibly stoic Borg, gripping Borg’s fire, then closed down his lips in a tight, slight the valve, forcing the young smile, fear in his eyes as he’s player to channel every mobbed by adoring fans, only ounce of emotion and pain allowing himself to break into his game. As one competitor down in private. It’s the far describes it, playing subtler and far more difficult against him is like being hit performance, communicating with a sledgehammer. so much with such a limited
McEnroe, on the other range, as Borg’s emotions are hand, is the stiletto, laser sharp clamped down to serve his shots masked by his athletic performance. outsize personality, leaving Metz shoots the tennis competitors slashed without action with an intimate immediacy even realizing what happened. that places you on the His blowups garnered court with the greats. Their him the rebel reputation, so agonizingly long tiebreaker is different from the icy cool the kind of stuff that makes Borg, but Borg sees something one fall in lovewith the Shakespeare and rama that familiar in McEnroe. is tennis. Through all the chaos, he recognizes
In other moments, Metz takes a bird’s eye view, widening out for overhead shots that abstract the game in graphic compositions: the white- clad figure moving within the white lines of the court, the individual in space.
The editing zips like the zinging shots the players whip back and forth, and the wellpaced sports film becomes almost a psychological thriller of sorts. Will Borg ever break? Will McEnroe ever pull it together? This character study of the two men links them together in their battle, working with and against each other, and becoming forever bonded in the process. “Borg vs. McEnroe” becomes an indelible portrait of these men and their unlikely, ineffable and ultimately, deeply emotional bond.
“Borg vs. Mcenroe,” a Neon release, is rated R for language throughout, and some nudity. Running time: 107 minutes. ★★★ ½
Shia LaBeouf, left, portrays John McEnroe, and Sverrir Gudnason is Bjorn Borg in “Borg vs McEnroe.”