(On Cable TV, December 2018) Hey wow—I recall playing Rampage-the-videogame on personal computers in the late 1980s, wowed by a 16-colour palette (EGA forever!) and having rather a lot of fun with it. (I just had a spin through the online abandonware browser emulator and it’s pretty much what I remembered.) Rampage the movie, of course, is something else: A thin excuse to have monsters destroying good chunks of a city, finally proving that seventeen years after 9/11, we’re once again ready to rumble through devastated downtown areas. Dwayne Johnston (who else?) leads the film, playing the kind of superheroes that is de rigueur for that kind of movie. The scientific blablabla is nonsense, but it quickly gets us to the super-monsters destroying cities, albeit with a slightly harder edge than I expected from a big PG-13 movies: there’s some faintly upsetting almost-R violence in the film that I did not necessarily enjoy. Still, Rampage is meant to be dumb fun and it knows it: one of the best non-CGI parts of the film is Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a mysterious scenery-chewing Southern man-in-black kind of special operative stealing every scene he’s in. Johnson is up to his usual leading-man standard (but is he getting overexposed?) while Naomie Harris is always enjoyable to look at—this film not being an exception. Of course, the point of Rampage is seeing Downtown Chicago landmarks being destroyed as thoroughly as possible—surely I can’t be the only one thinking about a Rampage/Transformers 3 mash-up? The film is both better and worse than expected: better in that it delivers the goods and keeps moving, with some great special-effects sequences along the way. Worse, because of the too-high level of violence, and overall impression that we’ve seen urban destruction so often lately (even in director Brad Peyton’s oeuvre, as per the somewhat more ludicrously enjoyable San Andreas) that Rampage is going to sink back into anonymity within months.
(On Cable TV, March 2016) The disaster movie will never die. Indeed, buoyed by advances in special-effects technology, it will rise again and again, more overblown and chaotic than ever before. If you thought that 2012’s earthquake sequences were as good that they were likely to get, prepare to be amazed by San Andreas’s wide-screen mayhem as Los Angeles and then San Francisco gets thoroughly trashed by a number of unimaginably powerful earthquakes. Dwayne Johnson anchors the film as its muscular protagonist, equally able to commandeer a helicopter for personal gain as he is to fly a small plane and provide first-aid. All of which turn out to be helpful when comes the time to go rescue his daughter from the elements. San Andreas is, to put it bluntly, a fairly dumb movie: The laws of physics are ignored, logic is downplayed, characters a mere plot puppets and nothing is as important as the CGI destruction shown on-screen. Even for a blunt disaster movie, it sometimes overplays its hand: Paul Giamatti does his best as the voice of exposition, while Alexandra Daddario is overexposed in centre-frame as a curvaceous object of desire. (I wouldn’t normally complain, except that in this case, there’s something extra-blatant in the way the movie shows her off and her character is supposed to be a teenager. Also, I’m getting old.) On the other hand, San Andreas is a cunning movie: Everything is engineered for the wow-factor, from some spectacular moments in which major California cities are torn apart to showcase sequences in which a character runs (in a single long shot) to escape to a building’s roof while skyscrapers are toppling all around downtown LA. It takes more than a little ingenuity to cram that much spectacle in a single film, and both the screenwriter Carlton Cuse and director Brad Peyton have to be congratulated (if that’s the right word) for delivering a film so committed to the base ideals of a disaster film. While the result may not be respectable, it springs to mind as a demo disc to show off any new home theatre improvement.