Review: Video fame adaptation ‘Rampage’ rocks

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Big star. Big monsters. Big fun.

“Rampage” gets it right. This video game adaptation knows what it is and what it’s not, and maximizes its potential by owning up to its reality. Every video game movie should be so honest with itself.

Even for an arcade game, the original “Rampage” was pretty thin on plot. Players took on the role of one of several giant monsters who climbed buildings, smashed out windows and ate humans like they were M&Ms. Occasionally you’d swat a helicopter out of the air or punch a tank for extra points. Destroy everything on screen and move on to the next level. For kids with time to kill, it was irresistible.

Big star. Big monsters. Big fun. “Rampage” gets it right.

There’s not a whole lot there from which to derive a movie, but where films like “Warcraft” and “Doom” trip over themselves trying to make themselves more than what they are, “Rampage” is perfectly happy in its own skin. This is a movie where the cartoonishly over-the-top villains have a stand-up version of a “Rampage” arcade game in their high rise headquarters. You couldn’t get more gleefully on-the-nose unless you paid for your movie ticket with a roll full of quarters.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is just the man to bring “Rampage” to life. The movie star with the Midas touch, he makes entertaining spectacles for global audiences, and his recent “Jumanji” soared to box office heights few envisioned possible. “Rampage” is even broader, and should play in Des Moines as well as it will play in Dubai because it speaks the universal language of destruction. If there’s a championship belt for the worldwide box office, it belong around the Rock’s waist.

He stars as Davis Okoye, an anti-poacher who “fought in wars all over the world” (of course he did) and now works as a primatologist at an animal sanctuary in San Diego. He’s better with animals than he is with people, and he shares a strong bond with an albino gorilla named George.

After an explosion at a space station where an evil corporation was working on genetic mutations of animals, pieces of radioactive material come raining down on Earth. George is one of several animals to come in contact with the toxic substance, and along with a wolf in Wyoming and a crocodile in the Everglades, he begins growing — both in size and levels of aggression — at an alarming rate.

It’s classic monster movie stuff. Behind the fallout are a pair of corporate goons in Chicago, played by Malin Akerman (“Watchmen”) and Jake Lacy (known for his earnest boyfriend roles in “Obvious Child” and “How to Be Single”). They’re the kind of villains who are always explaining their dastardly motivations to each other and anyone else who will listen, and come off like the slapstick-y bad guys in a Jackie Chan movie.

Because this is “Rampage” and sooner or later there needs to be some building destroying, the bad guys use radio waves to summon the monsters to Chicago’s Willis Tower. It’s a race to get to the Windy City before the city gets laid to waste, but not too fast, because watching a city get laid to waste is the exact reason why “Rampage” exists.

The cast is all on board with exactly how silly “Rampage” is, and how amusing it should be. To help stop the monsters, Okoye teams up with Naomie Harris (an Oscar nominee for her gripping work in “Moonlight”), who plays an ex-employee at the bad guys’ firm. Meanwhile, “The Walking Dead’s” Jeffrey Dean Morgan is an absolute hoot as Harvey Russell, a shadowy government agent cowboy-type who opposes Okoye, but winds up befriending him. Morgan is so cocksure that his confidence practically leaves a trail of oily residue, and he’s just right for the movie’s exaggerated version of reality.

Director Brad Peyton has worked with the Rock twice before, on “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “San Andreas,” and he creates just the right atmosphere of kooky, campy fun. Consider him the Rock Whisperer. This is the movie “Pacific Rim Uprising” wanted to be, this is the movie “Tomb Raider” should have been. Pure entertainment, “Rampage” is a smashing good time.

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Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures

Running time: 115 minutes