For a review of “The Meg,”
Notwithstanding its obvious similarities to a certain summer-of-’75 blockbuster about a great white shark, the new “Jaws”-on-steroids thriller “The Meg” — about a 75-foot shark — may remind you of a more recent, and entirely different, movie: “Skyscraper.”
Both films center on superlatives: the world’s tallest skyscraper; the world’s biggest shark. (In this case, it’s a living specimen of a prehistoric Me g alodon, long thought to be extinct.) Both feature bald, or nearly hairless, action stars: the genial Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper”; a more brooding, stubble-headed Jason Statham in “The Meg.” And both are co- productions between Hollywood studios and Chinese-owned production companies, and so feature Chinese co-stars and Asian settings.
They are also both merely passable entertainments, if also too mediocre to justify their slightly longer-thannecessary running times. In other words, they’re not just examples of popcorn movies but, like popcorn itself, blandly satisfying yet forgettable.
Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a disgraced deep-sea-rescue expert who, as it is explained in a prologue, is still living down his decision to abandon several colleagues in the middle of a mission after their vessel was attacked by what Jonas claimed was a giant shark. As the action of the film gets underway, our hero is drowning his sorrows in Thailand, having been divorced by his wife (Jessica McNamee) and having gained a reputation as a crazy person.
What he’s really doing, though, is waiting for redemption, which arrives in the form of a request to save his ex and two of her marine biologist colleagues from a submersible research vessel that has become disabled while exploring a previously unknown section of the seabed: a trench hidden beneath a thermocline, or cloudlike layer of super-chilled water. But what follows Jonas and the rescued scientists to the surface — via the hole they have just punctured in the cold water — is the mother of marine monsters.
When Jonas gets back to the base, he discovers that he has brought with him a sea creature that threatens the lives of the crew, played by a supporting cast of mostly nobodies, and a nearby beachside resort filled with extras. (Hey, action movies are expensive. That money that gets poured into special effects? It comes out of payroll.)
One of the more familiar faces is Rainn Wilson, who serves a dual purpose as the cynical, money-grubbing billionaire who has financed the science station on which much of the action is set: comic relief and, later, someone to root against when the shark starts looking for human chum.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub (“National Treasure”), from a screenplay adapted from Steve Alten’s 1997 book, “The Meg” takes its sweet time getting going, and doesn’t really start delivering on the expected thrills and chills until a scene in which Jonas, tethered by cable to a ship, dives into the ocean — with, inexplicably, no shark cage — to shoot a tracking device into the fin of the titular beastie. After the shark gets mad, and starts pursu- ing him, he becomes a piece of de facto bait, being reeled in as the Megalodon’s fin gets closer and closer.
What follows is a series of increasingly close calls, intercut with the aforementioned comedy — a little too much of that, if you ask me — and scenes centering on the budding romance between Jonas and a female scientist, played by Chinese actress Bingbing Li. Li’s apparent discomfort with her English dialogue lends her character an awkward stiffness ( but then again, most of the characters are cardboard, making it hard to care who gets eaten and who doesn’t).
Unlike his action-movie rival Johnson, Statham does not have the charisma to carry this film. He gets the job done all right, but makes it feel more like work than play.
“The Meg,” a War ner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for action, peril, bloody images and some coarse language. Running time: 113 minutes.
“Dog Days,” an omnibus comedy about the unique ability of dogs to connect us to others and ourselves, is the kind of mildly amusing, pandering film that shows up in movie theaters at random times throughout the year when nothing else notable is playing and people are willing to watch just about anything. Yet it still achieves some moments of genuine sweetness. It’s a film about dogs, after all, our collective best friend.
Director Ken Marino works from a script by Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama that’s essentially mashed together bits of stories that wouldn’t sustain a whole film on their own. There’s the uptight morning news anchor, Elizabeth ( Nina Dobrev), who warms to her new co-host, Jimmy (Tone Bell), when their pups bond. There’s the winsome barista, Tara ( Vanessa Hudgens), caught in a love triangle with a hunky vet, Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy), and an altruistic but nerdy dog rescue center owner, Garrett (Jon Bass). A stoner musician, Dax ( Adam Pally), learns about responsibility when his sister (Jessica St. Clair) needs him to watch her pooch while she mothers her newborn twins.
In perhaps the most heartwarming subplot, Tyler (Finn Wolfhard) befriends a lonely older man ( Ron Cephas Jones) who has lost his beloved pug, Mabel. The wayward pup ends up with the Chapman family (Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry), who are learning to live and love together with the new addition of adopted daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro), and Mabel proves the necessary glue.
All these are wisps of tales, so they’re loosely stitched together — Tara and Dax live in the same apart- ment building; Dr. Mike is seemingly the only vet in town, and when the rescue center has a fundraiser for their new facility, all the dog lovers collide. But there’s no real twisty plotting magic at play. These are just the kinds of small world, city-living connections that occur organically.
The script for “Dog Days” gets off to a very rocky start, with some painfully outdated gender-based jokes. In fact, it opens on the repeated misgendering of dog therapist Danielle (Tig Notaro), which is played like a slapstick routine, and simply doesn’t land. The unfunny heteronormative jokes continue throughout the character introductions, relying on cheap gay panic laughs from jokes about men finding other men attractive.
The film rights itself only when it starts getting seriously weird, and Marino’s alt- comedy roots start to shine through. David Wain appears as a laconic clown, while John Gemberling, completely underused as a vet tech, gets his moment, belting out an unwarranted but heartfelt “Amazing Grace.” Veteran comedians like Pally, St. Clair and even Bass get some great ad libs and one-liners, which add texture to the otherwise bland and placid surface.
“Dog Days” is in some ways a very strange movie, in the way it straddles the worlds of weirdo comedy and family-friendly fare. But ultimately, it’s the pooches who steal the show, from the increasingly accessorized Chihuahua Gertrude, to best friends Sam and Brandy, and finally, to Mabel the pug, whose ability to mend just about any broken heart makes her quite the unique dog indeed. When these furry friends are able liven up the doldrums of “Dog Days,” it finally proves the film worthwhile.
“Dog Days,” a LD Entertainment release, is rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for language. Running time: 112 minutes.
“Dog Days” stars, from left, Eva Longoria as Grace, Elizabeth Caro as Amelia and Rob Corddry as Kurt.