The Curious Case of the Rock in "Rampage"
Don't waste your precious pennies on Rampage, the new action film based on the video game in which you get to control monsters that trash buildings and devour fleeing citizens. It's completely without a pulse, despite the initial appeal of the Rock and his big mutant ape buddy George fighting other skyscraper sized beasties (A flying wolf and an alligator). Goddammit, doesn't that premise sound like the makings of a fun time at the movies? This should've been a layup. It's not. It's a big fat expensive miss.
But that happens all the time, right? Why is Rampage even worth discussing then? It wouldn't be, really, save for the fact that this is one of the few films where Dwayne Johnson's particular brand of charisma and likability is actively at odds with the nugget of genuine emotion embedded in the paint-by-numbers script. And yet I shudder to think at how much more unbearable this would've been to sit through were it not for the joyful and compulsively watchable big lug giving it his usual 111 percent.
We all know that the Rock's MO is to spruce up standard fare blockbuster flicks. You're meant to go in the theatre, enjoy his movie in an innocent way, and then leave feeling great. You're not hiring Dwayne Johnson to embody the fraught complexities and contradictory textures of the human condition. You're hiring him to deploy that weaponised charm of his.
But how does his trademark charm fit into the character he plays for Rampage? Not very well at all. In fact it's sort of unintentionally hilarious how odds it is with his character on paper. See, here he's not meant to be just a superhuman blank slate. He's Davis Okoye, an ex Special Forces dude who spent a few years busting poachers around the world. He's familiar enough with human cruelty that he prefers animals over people. He's meant to be something of a misanthrope, right? A rather specific character trait. We know this because two characters tell him "You don't like people." And it's also true that he has terrific chemistry with the CGI ape he saved, George. So a dose of misanthropy is fine flaw for your otherwise perfect protagonist to over come in your big dumb basic bitch blockbuster movie.
And yet when sharing a scene with other people, the Rock is incapable of turning off the charm and going into the very much called for grouch mode; fuck it, he can't even be curt or brusque. He just...he cannot do it. It's not in his wheelhouse right now. He's constantly good-natured, handy with a semi-witty one-liner, eager as a Golden Retriever to save the day. He's the Rock. He's the rock: chaos and cynicism and deception may shittily swirl around him but you can always depend on him to just be who he is, no more or no less. Being reassuring is his brand at this point. Consequently, this somewhat interesting flaw isn't an obstacle for him to overcome because you never believe it in the first place.
Rampage ultimately finds Dwayne Johnson at a most interesting time in his career. His magnetism is as such that he can effortlessly convince an audience of something that isn't there. You'd think that'd already be a prerequisite in this day and age, but you'd be wrong (observe Ewan McGregor's complete non-reaction to a highly lethal monster igniting 4 blades -- most likely because poor old Ewan had no idea what he was supposed to be looking at). Johnson can convince us of his friendship with a cartoon ape, but struggles mightily with portraying a fascinatingly flawed person. Effort isn't the issue here. He already gives 111 percent. What kind of movies the Rock will choose once the next big likeable lug supplants him will be something I'm very interested in.