“This is stupid.” That’s the line that Dwayne Johnson’s lead character says just before he scales the side of a 225 story building, with nothing but duct tape around his hands, and a rope connecting his waist to a statue that is wedged against a broken window. Yes, Dwayne… this is very stupid. As summer seems keen on showing us at least a few times a year, there’s a fine line between a movie being “So Bad, It’s Good” and being completely unwatchable.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who runs a small security company after losing his leg on a mission. His company gets its big break when a former partner (Pablo Schreiber) recommends his expertise in performing analysis on the newly built, largest skyscraper in the world. But after a terrorist (Roland Møller) and his minions break into the building to kidnap its creator (Chin Han), Sawyer finds himself attempting to scale the tower to rescue his wife (Neve Campbell) and children from inside.
You can’t go halfway on the ridiculous. If you’re going to have a movie where a guy with one leg can jump from a construction rig to the edge of a broken window and survive with barely a scratch, then don’t undermine that with serious stakes and an abundance of straight laced characters. Johnson has been gold on the big screen as both a serious and comedic tough guy. He tries his best to create the right balance in this movie by delivering a few 90’s style quips here and there. But most of the humor comes from things that probably aren’t meant to be funny… like plot holes, dumb character decisions, and bad CGI.
This movie is clearly marketed to those who’d pay $10 to see Dwayne Johnson open pickle jars for 2 hours. The only thing other than Johnson that makes Skyscraper remotely watchable is the occasional 3D effects that accentuate the feeling of Acrophobia. But, the movie does little to create unique personalities for any character involved, including Johnson’s, and the story is predictable. So unless you’re a huge fan, the entire experience is a ludicrous bore that will invoke more eye rolls than actual thrills.
FINAL GRADE: D
I remember playing Rampage the arcade game at Chuck E’ Cheese. You could choose between a giant gorilla, lizard, or wolf and the object of the game was to destroy buildings and eat people. Yep… that sounds exactly like the type of thing that would get turned into a movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2018.
Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who looks after a rare albino gorilla named George at the San Diego Zoo. When George is exposed to a dangerous chemical that alters his DNA, he becomes violent and starts to grow exponentially. Along with a mutated wolf and alligator, George goes on a rampage through Chicago. To save his primate friend, Davis teams up with a genetics expert (Naomi Harris) and a federal agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to find the cure within the shady company that inadvertently created them.
It’s hard to remember a movie with more incoherent plot threads than this one. Not the inexplicable opening street race in Fate of the Furious, not even the plots to the last four Transformers movies. They all pale in comparison to this nonsensical mess. The villains, a Research Company CEO (Malin Ackerman) and her useless, dimwitted brother (Jake Lacy) are the stupidest, most annoying antagonists I can fathom. Forget the fact that a reasonable motive is never given for why they’d even be experimenting with a substance that creates massive murderous mutations, when things go haywire Ackerman’s character’s solution is to draw the three creatures to Chicago to cure them. That’s right. The villain actually thinks signaling giant monsters to a major U.S. city is a great way to get away with creating giant monsters.
If you’re going to commit to cheesy, dumb fun, then don’t have your two leads taking things seriously. Pretty much every character other than Johnson and Harris is a buffoon. There’s the generic military general (Demetrius Grosse) who would rather get countless soldiers killed and bomb a heavily populated area than listen to literally the only two characters with knowledge on the situation. As for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s cartoonish cowboy spiel, it would work if Johnson didn’t constantly undermine it by acting like he’s fully committed. Morgan’s character makes dumb decisions too, like bringing a violent gorilla, he plans on killing anyway, aboard a plane. Why not just shoot it after you manage to sedate it?
When Dwayne Johnson’s tough guy routine feels like the most intelligent thing in a movie, you know you have a problem. Between moronic characters and plot points that make absolutely no sense, the only thing to enjoy about Rampage is the CGI destruction in the last twenty minutes. A few scenes of bonding between Johnson and the CGI ape make for some mild endearment. But is that where we are with movies now? Is a few jokes and a tough guy all audiences need to ignore plots that don’t even try to add up? If so, then I can see why Hollywood keeps crapping out Transformers and Fast and Furious movies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this monotonous mess turns into a franchise.
FINAL GRADE: D
A true story. The real heroes. You certainly can’t fault director Clint Eastwood for his fervor on this one. But there’s a reason actors are in movies. Actors are professionals at conveying emotion and creating an atmosphere that doesn’t make it obvious you’re not watching something that is staged. Despite a worthy subject matter, The 15:17 to Paris isn’t as compelling as it wants to be.
In 2015, two American soldiers and their civilian best friend stop a terrorist attack aboard a train while vacationing in Europe. The film delves into the back story of Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, exploring how they became friends and their struggles to go from juvenile delinquents to brave heroes. Rather than use actors in the main roles, the three men play themselves.
Knowing what they did to gain notoriety, it’s certainly easier to forgive the three leads for their terrible acting. But virtually every performance in this film feels wooden and cheesy. The dialogue doesn’t feel genuine and it constantly feels like everyone involved is struggling not to look at the camera. Poor writing is accompanied by a dull overall story. Instead of focusing on things that matter, the movie features scenes that are meaningless to the overall story which makes the movie ultimately boring with the lack of engaged performances.
It takes literally an hour and a half for 15:17 to Paris to actually become interesting when the heroic event is finally reenacted. But unless you feel like watching botched military try outs and empty banter between guys watching sports or at a bar, you’ll have to fight to stay awake long enough to reach the climax. Maybe real actors might’ve helped, but a script with better focus on pertinent details and character development is likely the only thing that could’ve saved this dull retelling of actual heroism.
FINAL GRADE: D
There’s a reason I hardly ever review ghost stories. Hollywood seems to be obsessed with jump scares and operates under the assumption that using true events for inspiration is the best way to enthrall moviegoers. Not me. Winchester is basically everything I loathe about the genre rolled up into an hour and a half mess.
The Winchester estate is a real mansion located in San Jose, California. The story goes that Sarah Winchester (portrayed by Helen Mirren), a widow and heir to a gun manufacturing company in 1906, believed she was being haunted by the ghosts of the people killed by the company’s weapons. To keep the unruly spirits at bay, she keeps the mansion under endless construction with halls, doors, and stair cases that lead nowhere. In this film, the company’s board of directors enlists drug addicted psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to give Sarah Winchester a psychiatric evaluation in hopes that they can strip her of ownership. Once invited into the mansion, he begins to experience the haunting for himself.
Let’s start with the scares, or lack thereof, in Winchester. Every single moment meant to frighten the audience is telegraphed beforehand thanks to the usual juvenile tactics of silence and unsubtle camera placement. And, like most films in the genre, these moments are few and far between. When they aren’t lazily yelling ‘Boo!’ at the screen, the movie sluggishly moves along with Jason Clarke’s dull, unlikable lead taking up screen time with a backstory you won’t care to remember.
The supporting cast is useless and forgettable and when the movie turns into a dark and lackluster version of Ghostbusters, it quickly nosedives into unwatchable territory. Despite such impressive talent in the lead roles and a somewhat eerie subject matter it feels like a squandered opportunity. But make no mistake, there is nothing entertaining or suspenseful about this story. You’d be better off just taking a trip to San Jose and walking through the real house at night.
FINAL GRADE: F