There’s hardly any keeping up with all the different roles Dwayne Johnson has played, both onscreen and in real life. College football player. Pro wrestler. (Well, maybe The Rock is more like “real” life.) Action star. Action-comedy star. HBO series star. Animated, singing Hawaiian demi-god. And now: the new Fay Wray.
Sort of. Johnson might not do any shrieking in the classic-videogame adaptation “Rampage,” but his sensitive-souled primatologist is the one person able to soothe the storyline’s giant ape run amok. The engaging dynamic between our hero and his gargantuan, computer-generated pal is the movie’s best surprise, with silly and straight bits both working mostly as intended for director Brad Peyton (Johnson’s “Journey 2” and “San Andreas”). Get your fill of these scenes and the bonkers, visually electrifying monster-palooza finale, and you’ll forgive a lot of the ham-handedness that comes with them.
Life is all feel-good fist-bumping and jocular obscene gesturing for Johnson’s San Diego Zoo staffer Davis Okoye and George, the rare albino gorilla he rescued from poachers years earlier. That is, until a nefarious biotech firm’s space-station research project comes crashing down into George’s enclosure, exposing him to a virus that turns him exponentially bigger, and meaner.
Disaster flick crosscutting reveals that — what are the odds? — a wolf up in Wyoming and a gator down in the Everglades have been similarly mutated, in keeping with the game’s setup. Time to scramble the story’s various interested parties. There’s the redemption-hungry scientist-with-a-past (Naomie Harris of “Moonlight,” thanklessly cast as Johnson’s sidekick). And a cowboy-stylin’ federal agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan — or is it Tommy Lee Jones?). And sister-and-brother corporate power brokers (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, playing antagonist with prime-time soap excess that falls flat compared with Morgan’s smirking farmhouse-henhouse-outhouse riff).
They track the swath of destruction from suspensefully shifting vantage points as the creatures make their way to New Y—um, Chicago, inexorably drawn by a homing signal emitted from atop the Empire St—um, Willis Tower. That’s really all the story we need, although the movie’s collection of writers apparently disagrees, if all the superfluous dialogue about pathogens and sitreps is any indication. It probably wouldn’t take this much exposition for Harris to explain how she segued from “Moonlight” to Kong-lite.
Actually, check that — “lite” isn’t really fair, not when the spectacularly chaotic final act delivers to such a satisfying degree. The upcoming “Godzilla vs. Kong” can only hope it’s as intense. Wonder who the Fay Wray will be?
Directed by Brad Peyton. Written by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan Condal, and Adam Sztykiel. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 104 min. PG-13 (sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, crude gestures).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.