‘The Meg’ proves tooth­less

Cape Argus - - TONIGHT - MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN

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 23m shark – may re­mind you of a more re­cent and en­tirely dif­fer­ent movie: Skyscraper.

Both cen­tre on su­perla­tives: the world’s tallest skyscraper; the world’s big­gest shark. (In this case, a liv­ing spec­i­men of a pre­his­toric Me­ga­lodon, long thought to be ex­tinct.)

Both fea­ture bald 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 fea­ture Chi­nese co-stars and Asian set­tings.

They are also both merely pass­able en­ter­tain­ments, just too medi­ocre to jus­tify their slightly longer-than-nec­es­sary run­ning times.

Statham plays Jonas Tay­lor, a dis­graced deep-sea res­cue ex­pert who 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 un­der way, our hero is drown­ing his sor­rows in Thai­land, hav­ing been di­vorced by his wife (Jes­sica McNamee) and 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 cloud-like 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 beach re­sort filled with ex­tras.

A more fa­mil­iar face 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 pur­su­ing 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 cen­tring on the bud­ding ro­mance be­tween Jonas and a fe­male sci­en­tist, played by 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.

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