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

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN -

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.

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