THE FORGOTTEN ART OF THE DUMB MOVIE
Filmmakers should stop overthinking their braindead blockbusters and make them as fun as possible says Empire’s Olly Richards
THERE’S A LINE that’s often trotted out about ‘dumb’ movies: “Don’t take it all so seriously.” The argument being that The Meg, the Transformers series, or anything starring Dwayne Johnson should just be fun and we shouldn’t really expect anything more. And, actually, that’s true. However, a great dumb movie is a wonderful thing, and our current crop simply isn’t up to scratch.
Dumb movies have been having a moment this year. As well as The Meg, we’ve seen Rampage and Skyscraper (notice both star Johnson), and you could argue Pacific Rim Uprising and
Tomb Raider, too. While some of those had a lot of really enjoyable moments, none of them came close to reaching their full potential for insanity. Some kept pulling back from their silliness, trying to be cool movies. Some promised silliness and delivered sloppiness. Some even — and now this is gross — deliver serious messages.
Take The Meg. Its script is awful, but Statham is well trained in strangling a bad pun until a laugh squeezes out. His contribution is beyond reproach. But then look at the action. Aside from perfectly timed gobbling of the little meg by the massive meg, the action seemed both poorly planned and lacking in comic timing. The beach sequence was all set-up and no delivery. That scene where Rainn Wilson’s baddie got gobbled should have been edited to provide tension, followed by a laugh. Instead it felt rushed and fell flat.
It’s hardly the only culprit. Rampage promised us lots of giant monsters punching buildings and delivered barely any at all. Incidentally, that film was briefly intended to feature a huge ‘Rock-zilla’ fighting the giant monsters, as per the video game it was based on, but director Brad Peyton nixed it for being “not grounded at all”. Why would you nix that? That is solid dumb-movie gold! The “grounded” bits in Rampage, about the evils of poaching and the horror of war, were by far the worst parts.
Here’s the thing that’s often forgotten: there is no shame in making a big dumb movie. Quite the opposite. It takes exceptional skill. What our dumb movies need are directors who are 100 per cent committed to making the most enjoyable movie possible, but don’t confuse that with making a serious movie. They need to recognise they’re making a rollercoaster ride (that’s a criticism cliché, but it’s apt here) and minutely plan every moment to swing the audience up and down, laughing and screaming as they go. Nobody gets off a rollercoaster jazzed about the bit that made them consider humanity’s failings or the importance of family.
A recent example of a dumb film done perfectly is John Wick. That is a very silly idea — a retired assassin gets back into the business when baddies kill his dog — executed exceptionally.
Its ideas are daft — an assassins-only hotel! — but each sequence is planned with laser focus. There are no deeper themes. Nothing is dashed off because it’s just a dumb movie. It is precision entertainment.
There are a number of potentially excellent dumb movies on the horizon, so we’re wishing very hard that they deliver on their promise. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, give us kaiju knocking seven bells out of each other and no sermonising. Top Gun: Maverick, give us the first movie’s camp and no mythologising. Be dumb. And be goddamn proud about it.
Clockwise from left:The Meg: wat-er load of rubbish; Dwayne Johnson on theRampage; Keanu takes his dog’s death very seriously in John Wick; Dwayne Johnson (yep, him again) inSkyscraper.