“Rampage” is disappointing with its mindless violence

Rating: 2.75/5 Gorillas

As an over-the-top action film featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Brad Peyton’s “Rampage” entertains on a mindless level. Even so, viewers should demand more for their money than an overall mediocre film likely to air on cable in a few months.

Based on the 1986 arcade game of the same name, “Rampage” centers around primatologist Davis Okoye, played by Johnson, who has developed a strong emotional bond with an albino silverback gorilla named George. Okoye finds little enjoyment and meaning in relationships with other human beings, often emotionally distancing himself from them. Rather, he finds fostering friendships with other animals, particularly gorillas, at his wildlife preserve far more worthwhile.

Unfortunately, George gets infected with an experimental drug that significantly alters his DNA, making him stronger, larger and more aggressive. This leads Okoye and geneticist Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris, to embark on a frantic mission to secure an antidote before the United States military kills George with extreme firepower. Also involved is the rogue organization that created the drug, called Energyne, and is led by some of the most generic villains to hit the big screen all year. George isn’t the only animal infected throughout the film. Along with him are a wolf and a crocodile who transform into monstrous creatures able to level entire cities.

Given this ridiculous plot, viewers shouldn’t expect “Rampage” to take itself too seriously. For the most part, the film knowingly maintains a light tone, led by a performance only The Rock could have provided.

Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on personal preference — Johnson gives a performance that fits in snugly with the other characters he’s played in his acting career. Okoye has an intimidating physical appearance that gives him the aura of a superhuman. He also has an empathetic heart that’s brought out through his friendship with George and his near-constant stream of humorous one-liners. The Rock is as ripped as ever, but his performance in “Rampage” doesn’t offer many surprises.

Okoye’s friendship with George is given just enough attention to make viewers care, largely because of the impressive motion-capture technology that brought George to life. The scenes in which Okoye and George interact contain the film’s most tender moments, as they speak to each other in sign language. I say “moments” because, more often than not, these scenes end with lewd, juvenile jokes that leave a sour aftertaste. This includes George giving the middle finger directly to the camera  — multiple times! — seemingly calling viewers out for going to see this outlandish film in the first place.

While “Rampage” isn’t trying to be anything other than an action-packed extravaganza, the central plot points of genetic modification and weaponization are surprisingly relevant in contemporary society. It’s a shame, then, that the film overlooks many of the darker aspects of this concept, except in a few brief moments scattered throughout the film. Peyton seems to think that’s not what audiences are interested in, but rather that they are interested in mindless carnage.

Indeed, the film more resembles a Saturday morning cartoon than a full-fledged motion picture — a 30-minute cartoon expanded to feature-film length, I might add — containing dialogue that will certainly elicit laughs from more critical viewers. In particular, the money-obsessed heads of the Energyne corporation, played by an annoying Malin Åkerman and a greasy-haired Jake Lacy, are distractingly exaggerated. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is also notable as governmental agent Harvey Russell, who employs a Texas drawl that’s impossible to take seriously.

Then again, most viewers will only go to see “Rampage” for chaotic, explosive destruction. In this respect, the film wholeheartedly delivers. Peyton employs spectacular special effects, especially with the creatures themselves. The film isn’t afraid to push the PG-13 rating, often featuring grisly acts of violence and carnage that will leave viewers’ bloodthirsty appetites satiated. The film’s last 30 minutes provide what the trailers and poster promise — a non-stop barrage of destruction and chaos. Seeing these giant creatures face off was cathartic and gratifying, a stress relief from the academic hell of Truman State University. However, this anarchy eventually becomes mind-numbing, leaving viewers feeling exhausted by the time the end credits roll.

There’s nothing majorly wrong with seeing “Rampage” to relieve stress as finals week looms, but there’s little brain behind all the brawn on display.