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The Meg (2018)

Image result for the megDIRECTOR: Jon Turtletaub

CAST: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Robert Taylor, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Page Kennedy, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Shuya Sophia Cai

REVIEW:

The Meg (based very loosely on the first novel in a book series by Steve Alten) is an example of a movie whose trailer is more entertaining than the movie itself.  The trailer doesn’t lead anyone to go in with Best Picture aspirations, but it suggests big, dumb, campy fun with a breezy tone.  In reality, while indeed cheesy, The Meg takes itself entirely too seriously and holds back the inherently silly premise rather than embracing the absurdity.

The plot is thin, but it involves our generic one-note action hero Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) a deep sea rescue diver who refuses to get back in the water due to a generic years-ago mission in which he was forced to leave men behind.  Jonas, a down-and-out alcoholic in Thailand (basically Bruce Willis with a British accent, bald head and surly one-liners and all), is dragged back into the game when a deep sea expedition involving his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee), among others, gets stranded at the bottom of the ocean after a run-in with a Megalodon, a massive, prehistoric shark thought extinct for the past two million years.  Teaming up with a crew including old buddy Mac (Cliff Curtis), Chinese scientist Suyin (Li Bingbing) and her father Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), the medical officer Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), with whom Jonas has testy relations, and the guy holding the purse strings, obnoxious billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson), Jonas manages to rescue his ex, but “The Meg” follows them up to menace nearby densely-populated beaches.

It’s interesting to watch The Meg almost back-to-back with Skyscraper.  While Skyscraper is a shallow Die Hard knock-off, The Meg is at times derivative of both Jaws and Deep Blue Sea, and like Skyscraper, The Meg feels pre-packaged for an Asian audience, set in China and Thailand and with major Chinese star Li Bingbing in a main role.  Both are led by stoically stalwart generic action hero types (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham).  It’s disappointing to report that overall, I have to report even Skyscraper as more engaging than The Meg.  The Meg feels frustratingly content to play it safe, never letting it all hang out when it comes to monster mayhem; the climax, with The Meg descending on a crowded tourist destination, teases us with some major monster movie carnage, but then chickens out after a few nibbles, and up until that point we have small-scale encounters with our intrepid team tangling with The Meg one-on-one in open water.  I was briefly willing to give the movie some credit for actually daring to kill off a dog (dogs usually being virtually untouchable in monster/disaster movies), but it undid even that with a throwaway shoehorned bit, as if a nervous studio executive shoved in two seconds of hastily-filmed extra footage.  The tone can’t make up its mind what it’s trying to be, tossing in one-liners that suggest a campy action-comedy, but then playing too flatly earnest to be the tongue-in-cheek romp the trailers suggest.  There’s all the staples: the stoic action hero with a tragic past, the kinda sorta “love interest”, a cute precocious child (Shuya Sophia Cai), the rich asshole, an ostensibly comic relief sidekick (Page Kennedy seeming to be doing his best “LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea” impression), some eye-rollingly cheesy dialogue and unearned “serious” character moments, etc.  We don’t care about any of the paper-thin “characters” onhand, so any “drama” among them falls flat.  There’s the occasional scattered suspenseful moment (The Meg’s appearance behind an oblivious Shuya Sophia Cai, a later chase sequence with Jonas being reeled in and narrowly outracing the pursuing Meg), but suffice to say the climactic confrontation is not as memorable as Roy Scheider’s showdown with the great white in Jaws.  Among shark movies, I felt The Shallows was a little overhyped, but it was done with more cinematic craftsmanship and a more interesting premise than this.  The movie fails to capitalize on the idea of a Megalodon running amok.  It’s essentially just a supersized great white, and nothing is done to distinguish it from any other killer shark in any other shark movie (of course, critics might say that there’s nowhere else to go with the “shark movie” premise that hasn’t already been done).

The acting is no more than adequate.  Among one-dimensionally stalwart action heroes, no one would confuse Dwayne Johnson with a great thespian, but he’s a more charismatic and engaging presence than the grimly stoic Jason Statham, and there’s no chemistry between Statham and Li Bingbing (there’s supposed to be some budding romance going on here, but it’s so half-baked as to generate no effect).  No one else makes an impression, with the supporting players existing to be comic relief sidekicks or monster fodder, or both (Rainn Wilson’s fatuousness is particularly out-of-place).

Had The Meg lived up to the promise of its trailer, it might not have been on anyone’s end-of-the-year Best Picture lists, but it might have been an enjoyably campy monster movie.  As it is, it’s disappointingly flat and paint-by-numbers and fails to do anything to distinguish itself.  It’s just another easily discarded slice of dubious “entertainment” in a movie landscape littered with far too many titles which fit that description.  The Meh would have been an equally apt summation.

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