Friday, August 10, 2018

THE MEG


Enough with sharks, already.  The Meg is the latest attempt to cash in on the Jaws craze that was lots of fun 40 years ago, but feels dead in the water by now.

The only thing that's amusing about this new movie is in the way it can be used as an example of American cinema's horrendous decay. Jaws was about three men on a little boat against a giant shark. The Meg has a cast of at least two dozen, without a single interesting character to choose from. Even the shark, though enormous, is a bit of a dullard.

The Meg isn't even fun to look at, since most of it takes place in the deepest parts of the ocean and in complete darkness. There's not a single glow-fish to break the monotony.

Still, big budget summer movies say something about our culture, so let's examine this one, eh?

Rainn Wilson plays a billionaire who has funded a kind of submarine/laboratory to study deep sea life off the coast of China. On the first mission, however, the gallant marine biologists are attacked by something big and nasty. They're stuck down there while the big fish circles. It's up to Jason Statham to save everybody. He's living in Thailand, having been declared unfit after a previous underwater experience where he claimed to see something big and ugly (and no one believed him).

Anyway, when Statham learns his ex-wife is one of the trapped scientists, he suits up. He does his bit, saves her, and we finally meet the prehistoric megalodon shark that has been causing so much trouble. 

Eventually, after what feels like three hours, Statham goes after this 90-foot beast armed with nothing but a knife and a spear gun. If Statham was more than a musclebound meathead, and the shark had any personality, we might care. But we don't.

"I want to make this thing bleed," Statham says at one point. He hisses his lines like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. That is, when he's not being all flirtatious with the women onboard, especially Bingbing Li, a 45 year-old Chinese actress who sounds like she's in pre-school.

Statham looks like you could break bottles over his head all day and he wouldn't blink. At one point Wilson says of Statham, "He looks heroic, and he walks fast, but he seems to have a negative attitude." This, I imagine, was in the script's description of the character.
 

The script, by the way, was written by three people. How it took three adult humans to come up with some of the dumbest dialog this side of Who's the Boss? is a real mystery. It's much more of a mystery than how a 2-million year old shark could still be living somewhere under the sea.

I did like the sleek, undersea gliders that are used to battle the shark; as Statham and Bingbing strap in and speed along, the movie, for a brief moment, has a bit of a Buck Rogers feel. And I like how the megalodon's fin seems old and weathered, as if the creature is as old as the sea itself. But these minor touches aren't enough to save The Meg from being a total disaster. 

Director Jon Turteltaub is an old hand in the business, having made his name in the 1990s with a series of romantic comedies. He might've been better off if the shark had fallen into a coma, and was nursed back to health by Sandra Bullock.

Warner Bros distributed this bore, but the The Meg is a Chinese co-production aimed squarely at the highly coveted Asian market. This explains the presence of  Bingbing Li, and why the only trailer shown before The Meg was for a new rom-com called Crazy Rich Asians. Apparently, The Meg is based on a novel, has been 20 years in the making, and it cost 150-million bucks. Still, for all of the time and money that went into it, and with two powerful countries working on it, The Meg is the sort of movie where you can predict what each character will say five minutes before he says it. This moronic style, I guess, is to make sub-titles easier for international audiences. 

Most grating is that The Meg feels like a movie assembled by a committee. We can almost envision the board meeting where it was decided that the cast would have a certain number of Americans, a certain number of Asians, at least one character who would seem vaguely lesbian, one easily frightened black dude, and plenty of cuddly Chinese children. And the women would be as tough and determined as the men, and before anyone goes into the sea to face the shark, there's a mandatory five minute scene where they hug a loved one. And if The Rock wasn't available to fight the shark, get the next guy in line. This is connect-the-dots, color-by-numbers moviemaking at its most cynical.

However, before signing off on this piece of expensive junk, I have to say that the audience I was in seemed to have a good time. Most of the customers were little girls with their mothers. They laughed at the cornball jokes, and seemed mildly intimidated by the megalodon. They liked Rainn Wilson, but their real favorite was a little dog named Pippin who managed to escape the jaws of doom. 

I was happy for these kids. The Meg is nothing memorable, but these kids had a nice summer afternoon in an air conditioned theater, watching a monster try to eat some people. I remember when that was all anybody needed. 





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