Saturday, August 18, 2018


If bestselling Scottish writer Alistair MacLean and American superstar Charles Bronson appear like a difficult match to imagine, even more so is the “Where Eagles Dare” author penning a murder & mystery set in the Old West on an Army transport train with lots of suspicious characters.  Indeed, like “Where Eagles Dare,” MacLean wrote the screenplay and the novel.  According to Jack Webster’s biography of Alistair MacLean, producer Elliot Kastner rescued MacLean from the ravages of a bad marriage and alcoholism, and--quoting Webster--“gave him an idea for a film (“Breakheart Pass”) and told him, in his own inimitable way, to get on with it.”  It seems that Kastner had been the spur for MacLean writing “Where Eagles Dare,” too.  Veteran stunt coordinator Yakima Canutt wound up his long career with this western.  Canutt had served as a stunt man for John Wayne in the Duke’s early Hollywood B-oaters, and he performed the hair-raising stunt for Wayne in John Ford’s classic western “Stagecoach” (1939) where he leaped onto a team of horses, lowered himself beneath them, and slid under the galloping steeds as well as the coach itself, seizing the rear of the coach, and then crawling back atop it.  Terry Leonard recreated this iconic stunt for Harrison Ford in Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981.
"Breakheart Pass" opens with scenic shots of a steam locomotive pulling a string of cars through the towering mountains set to Jerry Goldsmith’s terrific orchestral score.  Presumably, the grainy look of the credits must have been done to imitate the use of wood carvings in the old West.  This effect looked better on the big-screen than it does for the small screen.  The mustached Bronson heads an all-star cast of seasoned actors: Richard Crenna, Ed Lauter, Jill Ireland, Ben Johnson, Charles Durning, David Huddleston, Bill McKinney, Rayford Barnes, and Robert Tessier.  The craggy-faced star makes his entrance about seven minutes into this yarn wearing an impressive looking black coat and matching black hat with a sloping brim.  Literally, he seems like the odd man out in this epic.  A diphtheria epidemic has broken out at the frontier Army outpost of Fort Humboldt in the 1870s, and a train hauling medical supplies is in route to the beleaguered garrison.  This relief train has to thread its way through inhospitable mountainous country to deliver the supplies.  Although the train consists largely of Army personnel only, a luxurious private car carries Nevada Governor Richard Fairchild (Richard Crenna of “Catlow”), and his fiancée Marica Scoville (Jill Ireland of “Death Wish 2”) who turns out to be the daughter of the camp commandant.  At the small whistle stop settlement of Myrtle City, Deputy U.S. Marshal United Nathan Pearce (Ben Johnson of “Hang’em High”) explains that he wants to catch a ride with them because he must pick up a prisoner, Levi Calhoun (Robert Tessier of “Hard Times”), being held at Fort Humboldt.  Major Claremont refuses to take him until a stranger, John Deakin (Charles Bronson of “The Magnificent Seven”), is accused by another player of cheating at cards.  The Reverent Peabody (Bill McKinney of “Deliverance”) shows Pearce a wanted poster for Deakin.  Aside from a two-thousand-dollar bounty on his head, Deakin is also wanted for arson, murder, and blowing up a consignment of weapons bound for the Presidio.  Now, Pearce argues that he has Army business. 

Reluctantly, Claremont allows Pearce and his prisoner to board the train.  Before the train is scheduled to leave after tanking up it boiler with water in Myrtle City, two Army officers, Captain Oakland (Read Morgan of “Fatal Beauty”) and Lieutenant Newell (Robert Rothwell of “El Dorado”) vanish without a trace.  Earlier, Major Claremont (Ed Lauter of “The Longest Yard”) had given Oakland a message meant for the governor that the major wanted deciphered.  Murderous things begin to happen once the train resumes it journey; the first passenger to die on board is Dr. Molyneux (David Huddleston of “McQ”), and Deakin asks to examine the body.  He discovers that Molyneux was murdered.  Later, something even worse happens when the two coaches housing the troops and the caboose come uncoupled from the train.  Before he dies with his men, Sergeant Bellew blasts his way out of the locked car with his revolver and is shocked to see the brakeman in the caboose dead with a knife in his back.  The cars and caboose plummet into a gorge and disintegrate!  Of course, we don’t see any bodies tumble out.  Eventually, we learn that not only John Deakin is no outlaw, but an undercover government agent, but also the epidemic is a conspiracy between a homicidal maniac Levi Calhoun and a renegade tribe of Native Americans lead by Paiute Chief White Hand (Eddie Little Sky of “The Professionals”).  As it turns out, Deakin discovers that the medical supplies are in fact repeating rifles stolen from the factory along with crates of dynamite. 

“Will Penny” director Tom Gries, who had collaborated earlier with Bronson on modern-day escape opus “Breakout,’ which Bronson played for laughs, where he flew a helicopter into a Mexican prison and rescue an American citizen, maintains a firm hand throughout this rugged horse opera that takes place primarily on the train.  Predictably, the characters that you think are villainous in fact are not villains.  Bill McKinney is an example.  The train wreck is spectacular despite absence of dead bodies.  Presumably, the filmmakers didn’t resort to a score or more of dummies because it would have been either too gruesome or too phony.  Incidentally, those railroad cars that plunge down the mountain side are real, not fake toy models.  What is really strange is the decision to dub Robert Tessier.  Presumably, the producers didn’t like the twangy sound of Tessier’s voice, so they hired perennial narrator Paul Frees with his deep voice to voice him. Not exactly one of Charles Bronson’s most memorable westerns, but this sturdy, above-average, outdoor adventure boasts plenty of action.

Monday, July 2, 2018


Not only must good sequels live up to the original, but they must also transcend it. "Atomic Blonde" director David Leitch's "Deadpool 2" (**** OUT OF ****) makes Tim Miller's "Deadpool" appear almost prudish, boasting thrice as much profanity, promiscuity, and pyrotechnics, including our protagonist's smart-aleck asides to the audience. You've got to be a little warped yourself to appreciate Deadpool's antics. Make no mistake, "Deadpool" started the next stride in the evolution of cinematic costume-clad crimefighters. Starting with several "X-Men" (2000) epics, sequels and prequels, "Spider-Man" (2002) sequels and reboots, "The Fantastic Four" (2005) and its sequel "The Rise of the Silver Surfer," and then "Iron Man" (2008), "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), "Thor" (2011), "Captain America" (2011), "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014), "Ant Man" (2015), "Doctor Strange" (2016), and "Black Panther" (2017), the Marvel Cinematic Universe has outperformed its venerable rivals in the DC Universe, spouting risqué humor with PG-13 restraint, engaging characters, all swirled with sensational CGI. Although "Deadpool" (2016) never takes himself seriously, Ryan Reynolds is seriously sidesplitting. Skewering everything and everybody as well as himself and the eponymous character, Ryan Reynolds qualifies as the perfect match with 'the merc with a mouth.' Shattering the status quo PG-13 barrier, "Deadpool" plunged gleefully into forbidden R-rated territory. Earlier, no Hollywood studio would have green-lighted such an unconventional movie. Nothing in the "Deadpool" universe is safe from our crimson clad crimefighter's subversive sense of humor. If "Deadpool" ranked as the first exception to the rule, Hugh Jackman's, R-rated, swan-song "Logan" (2017) confirmed superheroes could thrive in an R-rated universe. "Deadpool 2" delivers every dollar's worth of its $110-million budget in energetic stunts, a James Bond opening credits parody, and a stouthearted Marvel character co-star who never lets Deadpool overshadow him. A minute under of two hours, "Deadpool 2" provides everything Reynolds promised during his after-credits "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" scene in the original.

"Deadpool 2" begins with Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds of "Green Lantern"), aka 'Deadpool,' struggling to keep his gal, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin of "Serenity"), out of harm's way. Unfortunately, he cannot protect her when gunmen invade their apartment, and Vanessa dies from a fatal bullet! Tragedy strikes early in this rambunctious sequel, and Vanessa remains on 'the other side' for most of it! A grief-stricken Deadpool catches her killer, disposing of him painfully as only Deadpool can, and then he obliterates himself in a fireball inferno. As all Deadpool fans know, Deadpool is indestructible as long as he has his superpowers. Mind you, he cannot kill himself, courtesy of Ajax's cancer treatments inflicted on him in "Deadpool." Incredibly, Deadpool's body rejuvenates itself! During a momentary absence, Wade visits Vanessa in 'the other world.' Initially, Vanessa had wanted to have a baby, but a bullet destroyed those dreams. Now, Wade Williams/Deadpool vows to save a child. This child is an obese teen with an attitude, Russell Collins (Julian Dennison of "Shopping"), who has suffered grievously at the hands of workers in an orphanage. Russell can summon flamethrower fires from his blazing hands, and he vows to incinerate the perverted Headmaster. A sympathetic Deadpool befriends Russell, but the two land in 'the Icebox' Prison, where our hero loses his superpowers. He advises Russell to find somebody else. No sooner are they behind bars than a vengeful Cable (Josh Brolin of "Sicario") appears. Cable storms the mutant prison located in an isolated snow-covered mountain range. An indomitable half-man, half-cyborg, equipped with massive firepower, he blasts away at Russell. A flashforward reveals Russell cremated Cable's wife and daughter, after the teen had grown up. Cable plans to liquidate him before Russell grows old enough to harm his loved ones. However, Cable must bypass Deadpool, but Deadpool refuses to accommodate him.

Not only does grim-looking Cable resemble the Terminator, but he is also every bit as alarming. Deadpool compares him with 'the Winter Soldier.' A straight-forward, time-traveling titan on a personal vendetta, Cable has no tolerance for humor. Cable makes the perfect straight man, and the granite-jawed Brolin looks born to play the character. He disparages Deadpool as "an annoying clown dressed up as a sex toy." Cable looks nothing like Thanos. Another Marvel character who hasn't been seen since "X-Men: The Last Stand" appears in one of the more dynamic action scenes. After Deadpool abandons Russell, Russell forges a friendship with Juggernaut. Juggernaut is a muscle-bound behemoth who wears a lampshade helmet. Inevitably, Colossus and Juggernaut tangle, in a reprise of Colossus's clash with Angel Dust (Gina Carano) in the original. Deadpool resolves to thwart Cable and rescue Russell during an armored prison convoy transfer. Assembling team 'X-Force,' a bunch of mutant half-wits, he uses them to hijack the convoy. Their mission is doomed from the start, and Deadpool must contend with trigger-happy Cable as well as the barbarous Juggernaut. Amidst all this turmoil, Russell's chief adversary, the despicable Headmaster (Eddie Marsan of "The World's End"), makes an unforgettable impression despite the modicum of time allowed him. 

"Atomic Blonde" director David Leitch sets several exhilarating, over-the-top, acrobatic faceoffs to venerable Top-40 hit tunes. The action erupts with Deadpool's world tour where he assails crime families everywhere and racks up a double-digit body count. Indeed, "Deadpool 2" bristles with more scenes of simulated cinematic violence than its predecessor. Leitch's polished directorial flare; the top-drawer CGI effects; and Ryan Reynolds' nonstop humor distinguish this superior sequel. The scene where Deadpool shoots Ryan Reynolds as he reads the "Green Lantern" screenplay is riotous. Not as atrocious as Reynolds argues, "Green Lantern" went belly-up at the box-office, and he maintains his contempt for it here as he did in "Deadpool." "Deadpool" scenarists Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, along with Reynolds, make nothing easy for our protagonist. He suffers several setbacks. The Brad Pitt cameo highlights the hilarious "X-Force" debacle as well as the X-Men that Wade overlooks at the mansion. Altogether, "Deadpool 2" is far more entertaining and uproarious than "Deadpool," and the writers create greater depth and spontaneity in this follow-up.


A glossy, polished, female revenge fantasy, crime caper, Gary Ross's "Ocean's Eight," (*** OUT OF ****) starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and Rihanna, amounts to the gender flip-side of Steven Soderbergh's male-oriented heist trilogy "Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen." Comparably, "Ocean's Eight" follows on the high heels of 2016's "Ghostbusters," with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones, that gave gals the starring roles in the remake of the 1984 Bill Murray classic. Predictably, "Ocean's Eight" shares some similarities with Soderbergh's extravagant, predictable, and often madcap epics. "Ocean's Eight," however, isn't as hopelessly fanciful as Soderbergh's "Oceans," but it unfolds in the same land of imaginary Hollywood realism. As Danny Ocean's younger sister Debbie, Sandra Bullock is fashionably appareled throughout this sumptuous PG-13 saga as are her comely conspirators. Like brother Danny, Debbie recruits top-flight talent. If you're afraid the authorities may nab and pack them off to prison, banish that thought. The police are virtually invisible in this elaborate 'mission impossible' theft. Indeed, our heroine flies so low beneath her parole officer's radar that we never see either him or her surprise our heroine with an unscheduled inspection. Make no mistake, "Hunger Games" helmer Gary Ross has made a palatable, attractive, and mildly suspenseful thriller that will probably hold your attention throughout its 11o-minute running time. The flaw in this sophisticated heist caper is our dames walk away without a hair out of place. Inevitably, they encounter some complications in "Ocean's Eight," but they never resort to physical violence. Furthermore, nobody either catches a bullet or dies.

Like the "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) remake, "Ocean's Eight" opens with a contrite Debbie reassuring the authorities at Nichols Women's Prison in New Jersey that she will avoid contact with all former criminal accomplices and family if she gets paroled. "If I were to be released," she sighs, "I would just want the simple life. I just want to hold down a job, make some friends, you know, pay my bills." No sooner has Debbie stepped out of stir than she steals everything in sight that she needs to wallow in the lap of luxury at a swanky motel during her first night out of prison. If you remember "Ocean's Eleven," Danny told his jailors the exact same lies. Debbie's brazen scam at the perfume counter later seems amateurish, but the movie makes it appear smoothly plausible. Meanwhile, she learns that her estranged brother, Danny Ocean, has died. For the record, George Clooney played Danny Ocean in Soderbergh's "Oceans" trilogy. Specifics are never revealed about Danny's demise. Nevertheless, Debbie visits the mausoleum where her older brother has been buried to pay her respects. She toasts Danny's passage with a martini but doesn't shed a tear. Conveniently, one of Danny's closest associates, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould of "MASH"), shows up on behalf of the fellows but fails to persuade Debbie to cease and desist. Is Danny really dead or is he in hiding? Knowing Danny, Danny is probably holed up someplace. More importantly, this bombshell revelation means no "Oceans 14!" Reportedly, Soderbergh has said in public that he has no plans for another "Ocean's" escapade.

In "Ocean's Eight," Debbie has engineered the whole shebang down to the smallest detail. All of her accomplices will walk away with cool double-digit millions and never have to ever commit another crime. Debbie has no problem recruiting her former partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett of "Thor: Ragnarok"), to join her and outlines her audacious plan to rob 'the most exclusive party in America,' the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Gala, in New York City. Like Danny, Debbie assembles an A-Team of experts from every field to execute her fool-proof plan. Reluctantly, Lou accommodates Debbie. Together, they enlist an out-of-fashion, fashion designer, Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter of "); an Indian jewelry-maker Amita (Mindy Kaling of "A Wrinkle in Time"), an African-American computer hacker, Nine Ball (Rihanna of "Battleship"); a white suburban housewife fence, Tammy (Sarah Paulson of "Serenity"); and an Asian-American pickpocket, Constance (Awkwafina of "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), to pull off this crime of the century. When Amita asks Debbie how long the latter took to concoct her bold scheme, Debbie replies specifically "five years, eight months, and twelve days." As it turns out, this is the length of time that Debbie spent in prison for a crime she didn't commit, all owing to a treacherous art dealer, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"), who double-crossed and framed her. Not only does Debbie savor the prospect of exacting vengeance on Becker, but she also tells her cohorts they are committing this grand crime for all those little girls aspiring to be career criminals.

Principally, Debbie and her partners dupe an arrogant but glamorous movie starlet, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway of "Love & Other Drugs"), into serving as their innocent accomplice. They hoodwink Kluger into hiring Rose Weil to dress her for the gala. Rose insists Daphne wear the legendary Toussaint, a world-renowned, six-pound, Cartier diamond necklace that has been locked up in an underground vault for the last fifty years. Initially, the Cartier people refuse to let the Toussaint, a bauble valued at $150 million, see the light of day. Reluctantly, they agree, and two seasoned security experts safeguard the necklace. Meanwhile, Tammy infiltrates the company coordinating the gala and works from within, acquiring all kinds of invaluable information. Nine Ball hacks into the security system to pinpoint the arrangement of all surveillance cameras. Inevitably, Debbie and company must separate Daphne from the Toussaint. This sequence with poor Daphne crouched over a toilet hurling her guts out is simply sidesplitting. Although he doesn't drum up white-knuckled, nail-biting suspense designed to keep you teetering on the edge of your seat, director Gary Ross never lets the momentum lag for a moment with a charismatic cast and splendid cinematography. An ideal gals' night out opus, "Ocean's Eight" qualifies as above-average with its cornucopia of humor compensating for its conspicuous scarcity of suspense.


Remakes!  Remakes!  Remakes!  When will they never stop?  Gordon Parks, Jr.’s “Super Fly” (1972) is Hollywood’s latest casualty.  Generally, remakes lack the magic of their predecessors.  Exceptions exist to the rule.  Canadian-born Director X’s updated “Superfly” (**** OUT OF ****) remake adheres to the core of the landmark original. For the record, Director X’s real name is Julien Christian Lutz.  Apart from 2015’s “Across the Line,” Lutz has helmed music videos primarily for the last twenty years, with vocalists such as Usher, R. Kelly, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj.  Lutz imparts both polish and pacing to this profane, bullet-riddled, R-rated, 116-minute crime thriller.  Like the original character, an affluent coke dealer decides to quit the business for safety’s sake.  Indeed, forty-six years later, some things have changed.  “Superfly” takes place in contemporary Atlanta, Georgia, with jaunts around the Southeast, Texas, and Mexico. Comparatively, “Super Fly” (1972) confined itself strictly to New York City.  Not only does “Watchmen” scenarist Alex Tse preserve a lot of the original “Super Fly,” but he also provides greater narrative depth and more characters. “Sons 2 the Grave” actor Trevor Jackson is suitably cast with his handsome GQ looks as the new Youngblood Priest.  Like his forerunner, Priest maintains a low profile so neither local nor national law enforcement knows about him!  He has never been arrested, and his juvenile record is sealed. He strives to blend in rather than stick out. The same was true of Ron O’Neal, who portrayed an older Youngblood Priest in the surprise 1972 smash hit.  Fashion has changed considerably since the original.  Priest cruises around in an upscale Lexus 500 rather than a gaudy pimped-out El Dorado Cadillac.  Our hero’s chief competition is a vainglorious cocaine peddling gang of African-American villains decked out in immaculate white outfits.  These guys look like they belong in the D.C. Comics super-villain universe. The worst thing I can say about “SuperFly” is it made me think of a supercharged “Miami Vice” episode. 

Youngblood Priest has maintained a critical balancing act of living at the top without having to fear either the police or rival coke dealers.  Everything changes radically in one split-second at a strip club when Priest clashes with an impulsive member of the Snow Patrol, Juju (Kaalan Walker of “Kings”), and the latter tries to murder him.  Instead, the reckless Juju wounds an innocent female bystander.  Priest thrusts a wad of bills into the wounded girl’s hand and advises her friends to rush her immediately to the nearest trauma center.  Meantime, Juju’s boss, Q (Big Bank Black of “Birds of a Feather”), far from happy with his trigger-happy henchman, has gone and shelled out $50 grand to silence the wounded girl and her friends.  Indeed, the clash, the shooting, and Juju’s rabid vengeance, register powerfully on our protagonist.  This incident prompts Priest to decide to retire.  In the original “Super Fly,” Priest simply felt the time was ripe to bow out, but the filmmakers never gave him as substantial a motivation as Director X and Alex Tse do with “Superfly.”  Priest commences to plan for his future, even if his long-time partner, Eddie (Jason Mitchell of “Contraband”), refuses to let a good thing go.  Like Eddie in the original “Super Fly,” this Eddie argues that ‘the Man’ won’t let them do anything else.  This seems ironic since “Superfly” was produced after the eight-year presidency of Barrack Obama.  Immediately, Priest looks up his old friend and mentor, Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams of “Brooklyn's Finest”), who has been supplying him with cocaine.  Priest figures that if he can get more, he can sell more, and then have enough to retire.  Surprisingly, Scatter refuses to accommodate Priest.  Scatter here is a combination of Priest’s mentor from the original as well as his martial arts instructor.

In the original “Super Fly,” Scatter came through for Priest, but it cost Scatter his life. Corrupt NYPD officials ordered Scatter liquidated as a victim of a heroin overdose, and they chose to let Priest and Eddie assume his responsibilities.  In “Superfly,” Priest shrewdly shadows Scatter to find out where his mentor obtains his supply of cocaine.  Meantime, Scatter doesn’t suspect that Priest and Eddie are tailing him.  Neither does Scatter’s connection, Mexican cartel kingpin Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales of “Paid in Full”), notice Priest.  Audaciously, Priest and Eddie follow Gonzalez across the border into Mexico, and Priest meets with the notorious trafficker.  At one point, after his goons do notice Priest, the cartel crime boss has them bring Priest aboard his private jet, and Gonzalez threatens to throw him out of it during the flight.  The level-headed Priest persuades Gonzalez to provide him with enough product for his escape strategy.  This represents the second time Priest has put himself in jeopardy, but he emerges none the worse for wear.  Not until later does Priest brandish a gun to defend himself and his women.  This younger Youngblood Priest displays considerable discretion to avoid wanton bloodshed compared with the volatile Juju.  Things deteriorate dramatically when another black gangsta launches an attack on a barber shop that Q operates as a front.  Virtually everybody but Juju dies during this devastating drive-by shooting.  Eventually, Q discovers that one of Priest’s associates orchestrated the shootout.  Furthermore, a furious Scatter learns Priest has gone behind his back to contact Gonzalez. Worst, a clueless strip club owner, Fat Freddy (Jacob Ming-Trent of “A Midsummer Night's Dream”), is exposed as the man who dispatched the gunmen to kill Juju.  

“Superfly” bristles with more of everything than its unforgettable predecessor.  The Snow Patrol with their Scarface mansion make intimidating adversaries.  Not only has Director X and scenarist Alex Tse carefully retained as much plot as possible from the original, but they have also added more.  One of the strongest additions is the corrupt Atlanta policewoman, Detective Mason (Jennifer Morrison of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”), who exposes Priest.  Ultimately, Director X tips his hat to Curtis Mayfield by including his classic tune in this stellar remake of “Super Fly.” 

Monday, May 7, 2018


If you didn’t get your fill of colossal robots and chimerical lizards toppling Tokyo skyscrapers in “Pacific Rim Uprising,” you can find something similar in the predictable but winsome sci-fi, creature feature “Rampage” (*** OUT ****) where a gargantuan gorilla, a 30-foot wolf, and a leviathan-shaped alligator flatten Chicago.  Based loosely on Bally Midway’s 1986 video arcade game, this $120-million, Warner Brothers/New Line Cinema release qualifies as a big, dumb, demolition derby with sterling CGI galore.  Outrageously outlandish in every respect, this far-fetched fable benefits from the charisma of lead actor Dewayne Johnson and supporting star Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  Johnson’s commanding presence is literally ‘the Rock’ that allows us to treat “Rampage” as something more than just another paint-by-the-numbers extravaganza.  Johnson plays a primatologist who uses sign language to converse with a rare albino gorilla.  Morgan is cast as a good ole’ boy government trouble shooter.  As arch-villainess Claire Wyden, Malin Akerman infuriates these two, and she shows no qualms about genetic editing in lifeforms.  Owner of a billion-dollar biotech company, Wyden breaks the law without a qualm for her forbidden genetics experiments.  No, Marvel Studios isn’t the only company that has exploited genetic mutation to pump up their plots.  As this deafening, melodramatic, nonsense approaches its climax, the city of Chicago suffers another apocalypse like that in director Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of The Moon.”  British actress Naomie Harris rounds out the cast as one of Claire’s disgraced researchers. 

“Rampage” opens in outer space on the Wyden space station Athena-1 where experiments have been performed on lab rats.  As the action unfolds, alarms throughout the space station send one technician, Dr. Kerry Atkins (Marley Shelton of “Planet Terror”), scrambling desperately for an escape pod.  A mutant rat that appears to be the size of a wild boar pursues her.  Claire Wyden locks down the mechanism which enables Atkins to open the door to the escape pod hatch.  While a succession of fireball explosions rocks Athena-1, Claire orders Atkins to retrieve several canisters holding a pathogen known as CRISPR.  According to the film’s preface: CRISPR is “a breakthrough new technology” used by scientists to “treat incurable diseases through genetic editing.”  If she refuses to obey Claire’s demands, Atkins will die aboard the disintegrating platform.  Although Atkins salvages enough canisters, the rat shatters the window in the escape pod door before it jettisons itself.  The craft explodes along with the space station.  Fortunately, for Claire, the canisters survive the deep-freeze temperatures of space, plunge through the atmosphere, and crash in different parts of the United States. 
At the San Diego Wildlife Preserve, an albino gorilla named George is the first animal to confront this pathogen.  George has been raised from infancy by muscle-bound primate specialist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson of “Baywatch”), who rescued him from poachers that slaughtered his mom.  Of course, Okoye is no ordinary primatologist.  He has served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, knows how to wield weapons of any kind, and can fly a helicopter.  George grows several times his normal size, demolishes his enclosure, and is poised to flee when a mysterious chopper hovers nearby. A swarm of tranquilizer darts knock him off his knuckles.  No sooner has George collapsed than troops load him onto a military transport plane.  Former Wyden genetic engineer Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris of “Skyfall”), who had rushed to the wildlife preserve after learning about George, finds herself in the custody of OGA Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of “Watchmen”) along with Okoye.  Russell reveals to Okoye that Claire Wyden fired Caldwell, and the former Wyden scientist served time in prison.  Okoye and Caldwell warn Russell that none of his safeguards will prevent George from escaping from the transport plane.

While George, Davis, and Dr. Caldwell are in flight, two other beasts encounter CRISPR canisters.  The second is a timber wolf that grows large enough to snag a helicopter in its jaws and destroy it.  This savage animal chews up a squad of heavily-armed mercenaries dispatched by Claire to trap it.  The last canister splashes down in the Everglades, and a random alligator crunches it.  Eventually, the gator swells to the size of a “Jurassic Park” dinosaur.  Shrewdly, Claire has devised a means to summon these genetic mutations to her laboratories in the company's Chicago, Illinois skyscraper.  George awakens in flight, destroys the transport plane, but miraculously survives the crash.  Like Tom Cruise and his leading lady in last summer’s horror adventure “The Mummy,” Davis and Caldwell seize parachutes and bail open, too.  Now, George and the wolf are scrambling to Chicago as well as the mutated gator.

“Rampage” marks the third collaboration between director Brad Peyton and Johnson. Earlier, they made “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” (2012) and then “San Andreas” (2015). If you’ve seen any of the recent alien invasion epics or Godzilla sagas, you can figure out easily what follows next in this rambunctious taleNaturally, the military responds with enough firepower to blast Chicago to kingdom come.  The trouble is, nothing slows down this indestructible trio.  Meantime, the FBI raid Claire’s offices, but she cooperates.  Unbeknownst to Uncle Sam, Claire has cleverly concealed her top-secret files.  She gets the surprise of her life when this monstrous trio wreaks havoc in the Windy City and scales her skyscraper to silence her homing beacon.  Dr. Caldwell and Davis aren’t far behind Wyden, and Caldwell locates the antidote that will save George.

Dewayne Johnson compensates for all the ersatz, ‘what-if’ science fiction nonsense with his affable personality. You’ll have more fun watching the Hawaiian hulk than the imposing monsters.  You’ll appreciate Johnson’s compassionate friendship with George that director Brad Peyton amplifies with comedy before disaster strikes.  Their friendship reminded me of the classic 1933 “King Kong” sequel “The Son of Kong.”  Unlike the other two mutated monsters, George never seems as pitiless and predatory. The CGI effects are virtually flawless, so the mutated alligator and the Tex Avery timber wolf appear sufficiently menacing.  “Rampage” ranks as rip-snorting enjoyment.