The Meg opens at the AMC 12 Fri., Aug. 10.
It’s Jason Statham versus a giant prehistoric shark. What, you need more?
OK. Here’s the deal: Jaws’ reputation as the best shark movie ever is safe, but yes, we learn from that one that they’re gonna need a bigger boat. Jurassic Park’s reputation as the best ancient-creature-in-the-modern-world movie ever is safe, but yes, the scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. In this one, they’re not genetically engineering enormous extinct ocean predators, but there’s definitely some meddling in realms that humans were not meant to meddle in, and so on.
More? Are you ready for this? Stath goes hand-to-fin with the giant prehistoric shark. If that is not enough for you, then you needn’t bother with The Meg. You are not among those being pandered to with this movie, which is very ecumenical in its pandering. There’s something for the literary crowd: Statham’s deep-sea-rescue diver is haunted by the spectre of the monster that killed his crew — his best friends! — five years earlier. A creature that no one believed existed when he told them. But now! Vindication and revenge shall be his, maybe Moby Dick style.
There’s something for the classic-sci-fi crowd: The Megalodon, the giant shark, has been disturbed from its hidden underwater realm, a place cut off from time, just like The Lost Continent, except on the ocean floor. There’s the “Chinese production money must be acknowledged” crowd, so we get significant sequences set in Shanghai. The cast features the awesome Li Bingbing — as the scientist who knows sharks, and whose offshore research station is ground zero for the shark havoc — and her adorable little daughter, Sophia Cai. (Seriously, Statham has a terrific niche starring opposite badass little girls; see also 2012’s Safe and 2013’s Homefront.) Cai and Statham together onscreen are non-shark highlights. He is thoroughly charming with little girls. (So there’s another crowd being pandered to: the one that likes to see tough guys softened by kids.) And there is also the crowd that is grateful for totally gratuitous male nudity, a crowd that is sadly almost never appeased onscreen.
Then there’s the crowd that appreciates cheesy movies — I count myself in this one — who may be just a tad disappointed. The Meg is more cheesy than suspenseful or scary, but even cheesier still would have been better. The script, by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, leans on so many melodrama and disaster flick clichés. But it never leans quite hard enough. You’re never really sure if the movie intends to make us laugh at the terrible and often histrionic dialogue, or if it’s genuinely offered as serious and emotional drama. Director Jon Turteltaub seems to walk a tightrope between comedy and horror, and so the movie doesn’t totally satisfy in either direction. (The movie is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Steve Alten, which doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to what ended up onscreen. The book also doesn’t sound like it is meant to be funny.)
The Meg isn’t quite as much big dumb ridiculous fun as the recent movie Rampage, in which the Rock and his giant gorilla pal fight a giant croc and a giant wolf. But as big dumb ridiculous action movies go, The Meg will do until the next one shows up.