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REVIEW: "Rampage"

By Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler.com

originally published: 04/24/2018

REVIEW: "Rampage"

Rampage is the first screen adaptation of a video game that this writer can claim to have played. Back in the day I pumped a lot of coins into its arcade version while on day trips to the seaside, before later purchasing the home version for my Commodore 64 (remember those?). It was a deliciously simple game in which the player got to play as one of three giant monsters - George, a King Kong type giant ape; Ralph, a ginormous werewolf; and Lizzie, a Godzilla stand-in - and destroy representations of American cities (for some reason Peoria, Indiana stands out in my memory). I think the appeal of Rampage for kids was its theme of destruction; kids love to break stuff, so knocking down skyscrapers appealed to our lizard brain instincts.

Rampage was a game heavily inspired by movies, so it made sense that one day it might be adapted for the screen. Trouble is, the game had no real plot. Unlike the cinematic video games of today, with their high production value cut scenes and focus on storytelling, ‘80s games just threw you straight into the action and hoped you didn’t ask questions (we didn’t). Tasked with coming up with a plot to weave around Rampage’s mass destruction are no less than four screenwriters, which is never a good sign. The result is a movie that expends far too much energy on its plot rather than exploiting its premise.

Said plot concerns a shady scientific group that has been dabbling in what the film calls ‘genetic editing’, which is fancy talk for mixing the DNA of various creatures to create mutant hybrids. Apparently the initial purpose was to cure cancer, but brother and sister baddies Brett and Claire Wyden (Jake Lacy and Malin Akerman channelling the sort of villains you might expect from an ‘80s era Superman movie) have more sinister motivations, which I can’t exactly recall because this is the sort of movie that causes your brain to shut down during its opening act.

REVIEW: "Rampage"

Anyway, after a giant rat runs amok on a spacecraft (stay with me), three samples of some sort of magical juice fall from space and crash land in America, infecting three animals - George, a lovable white ape in a San Diego sanctuary; a wolf in Wyoming; and an alligator in the Everglades. The three creatures mutate, growing to huge size and developing equally large appetites. To attract the giant monsters, the Wydens hook up a radio tower, using its signal to draw them towards downtown Chicago. What could go wrong?

Our heroes are Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), an ex special forces primatologist (seriously, stay with me) and George’s best mate; Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a scientist who once worked for the Wydens; and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, chewing more scenery than any of his monster co-stars as Harvey Russell, an agent of some ambiguous government branch.  Morgan gets the movie’s best line, and maybe 2018’s best line, when he introduces himself with this all-timer: “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets!” Whichever of the four writers is responsible for that gem deserves to take home an Oscar next February. Sadly, it’s a standout line in an otherwise flat script that spends too much time tasking its characters with explaining the nuances of a very silly plot to an audience that is only here for the monster action. The monster b-movies of the ‘50s always had that one scene in which a scientist explained the plot to the square jawed hero and cantilever brassiere wearing heroine, but it seems like today’s mega budget equivalents give us one of those scene every 10 minutes.



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When said monster action arrives, it’s initially quite impressive, with the giant trio wreaking havoc on Chicago, but then it descends into one of those generic modern blockbuster climaxes in which all the action takes place in a giant cloud of smoke, presumably to save the FX crew the hassle of rendering a city.

REVIEW: "Rampage"

Aside from a few knowing one-liners, Rampage never fully embraces the ridiculousness of its plot, and whenever the monsters are off screen, which is far too much of its running time, it feels interchangeable with a half dozen other movies headlined by Johnson.

With his suspect politics but undeniable presence, Johnson has established himself as the John Wayne of our times, and regardless of the quality of the material he’s given to work with, he always delivers a fully committed performance with an infectious charisma that papers over a lot of cracks. Rampage however is the first time I felt his boy scout shtick begin to wear a little thin. Later this summer we’ll see him leap from a helicopter into a giant tower in disaster movie Skyscraper, and I suspect that may well be the moment that sees him jumping the proverbial shark.

Rampage 2 1/2 stars out of 5

Directed by: Brad Peyton; Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello, and Marley Shelton 





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State Theatre Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back In Concert with NJSO
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra present Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in concert with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra featuring Conductor Constantine Kitsopolous on Saturday January 6, 2019 at 3:00pm. Tickets range from $35-$125. 
A Look At New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program In Cinema Studies, presents the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 which marks the festival's 37th Anniversary.  The Festival will take place between January 25 and March 1, 2019. Showcasing new international films, American independent features, experimental and short subjects, classic revivals, and cutting-edge documentaries, the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 will feature over 35 film screenings. 
NJPAC Presents Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Live in Concert With The NJSO
(NEWARK, NJ) -- The Harry Potter Film Concert Series returns to New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Live in Concert, on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. See the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra perform the magical score live while the entire film plays in high-definition on a 40-foot screen.
Kean Stage Hosts "White Christmas" Sing-Along
(UNION, NJ) -- Kean Stage hosts a White Christmas Sing-Along on Sunday, December 16 at 3:00pm.  Gather your family and friends for this beloved 1954 holiday film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. You’ll enjoy singing along to Count Your Blessings, Snow, Sisters and, of course, the iconic White Christmas. And don’t worry if you don’t know the words – the lyrics will be shown on the screen.


REVIEW: "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald"
For better or worse (worse in this writer’s eyes), the success of the Harry Potter franchise is largely responsible for the current Hollywood landscape of endless sequels, prequels and that awful phrase “universe building.” The Potter films showed Hollywood that it was a far safer financial model to hook audiences into returning for instalments of an ongoing series rather than taking a punt on the unknown quantity of original properties.
REVIEW: "Shoplifters"
Earlier this year, writer/director extraordinaire Hirokazu Kore-eda surprised us with The Third Murder, a legal thriller that made for a stark departure from the sentimental family dramas he’s become known for. With his Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters, Kore-eda is back on familiar ground, but this particular family drama shares much in common with The Third Murder. With his thriller, Kore-eda deconstructed the genre, forcing us to question how willingly we place our trust in a storyteller. Similarly, Shoplifters sees Kore-eda lull his audience into a false sense of security, making us develop a warmth and affection towards people who may not warrant such empathy.
REVIEW: "First Man"
The image that most defines the 20th century is that of a man standing on the surface of the moon. The man is astronaut Neil Armstrong, but we can’t see his face as he’s wearing a helmet, the glass of which reflects our collective achievement back at us. When he took a small step, we all took a giant leap with him, and Armstrong instantly became more than a mere man, a symbol. With First Man, director Damien Chazelle takes us inside the famous helmet, stripping away the symbol to tell the story of Armstrong the man.
REVIEW: "Halloween"
In 2013, John Carpenter’s Halloween received a 35th anniversary blu-ray release. The accompanying booklet credited the following line of dialogue to Jamie Lee Curtis’s babysitting heroine Laurie Strode: “Was it the boogeyman?” Of course, that’s a misquote. In the scene in question, Laurie admits to herself that “It WAS the boogeyman,” to which Donald Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis solemnly replies, “As a matter of fact, it was.”
REVIEW: "Cold War"
Back in 2006, German cinema scored something of a breakout global hit with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, which followed the travails of a group of disgruntled, pro-western artists in communist era East Germany. At the time I couldn’t help viewing the protagonists of Von Donnersmarck’s drama as the sort of people who would be just as discontented with their lot if they found themselves living in the capitalist west. The grass is always greener on the other side.






Event calendar
Saturday, Dec 15, 2018


MUSIC

DOWNSTREAM @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

LIFE OF AGONY/SICK OF IT ALL @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 6:30pm

JOHNNY O @ Lobby Bar at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 10:00pm

WEIRD SCIENCE @ Hard Rock Cafe at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 10:00pm

The THE BAND Band @ Darress Theatre, Boonton - 8:00pm

Brian Fallon @ Crossroads (Garwood), Garwood - 8:00pm

KASHMIR THE LIVE LED ZEPPELIN SHOW @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm

Holiday POPS! @ Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, Princeton - 3:00pm and 6:00pm

TAKING BACK SUNDAY @ Starland Ballroom, Sayreville - 7:00pm

Classic Stones Live! The Complete Rolling Stones Tribute Show @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

The Beat Tells @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm

The Metropolitan Opera: La Traviata @ Pollak Theatre @ Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 1:00pm







THEATRE

Elf, The Musical @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 2:00pm and 7:00pm and 7:30pm

A Christmas Story @ Pax Amicus Castle Theatre, Budd Lake - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Seussical @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 7:30pm

Peter Pan @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 7:30pm

A CHRISTMAS CAROL @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 7:00pm

RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S THE KING AND I - BASED ON THE LINCOLN CENTER THEATER PRODUCTION @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

A Wonderful Life @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 8:00pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

A Charlie Brown Christmas @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 1:30pm and 3:30pm

Hudson Theatre Works presents "And My True Love Gave To Me" @ Hudson Theatre Works, Weehawken - 8:00pm


COMEDY

Louie Anderson @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm


DANCE

NEW JERSEY BALLET’S NUTCRACKER WITH NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 1:00pm and 6:00pm

Forces of Nature Dance Theatre with special guest Sweet Honey In The Rock @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 2:00pm and 7:30pm


FILM

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in Concert Live to Film @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 2:00pm and 7:30pm

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