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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Quick-take: THE MEG

The Buzz: Based on the trailers, The Meg gives one the belief you'd be headed into Snakes on a Plane-type cult fervor territory, and given the way those anticipating its release speak about it with a chuckle, that's the movie that is basically expected: drive-through type fare about a giant shark with Jason Statham as the lone man who's able to kick its ass. Jon Turtletaub, the man who's best know for his work on similar schlock like the National Treasure movies (schlock I'd watch 10 times over any of the interminable Da Vinci Code films), and whose more recent work was Last Vegas, you know the one...where a bunch of old Oscar winners get together on screen and embarrass themselves. Yep! That's the bar we have to clear here. Can Statham's muscular torso and the underwater antics of this sharksploitation fest do it?

What's Great About the Movie: Nope. Nothing. As a matter of fact, while watching The Meg, I almost entered a fugue state. A little voice in my head said to me: "Just leave! No one will know the difference," and dear reader, for the first time ever, I broached the idea of walking out. But I didn't do it! From the opening frame, to the final title card that read, groaningly "Fin", I was there to witness this entire spectacle roll out in front of me. If one were forced to give some begrudging credit, there's a decent jumpscare or two that gave me a welcome jolt, if only to keep me awake - and Statham himself, even when given horrible dialogue that does him zero favors, still is able to carry a scene despite the deadwood that surrounds him at all times.

Though nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, The Meg also stands as an interesting new benchmark in just how far a studio will go with a project aiming to appeal to the Chinese market. The entirety of the narrative takes place in Chinese waters, with two of its main heroes also being of Chinese origin (played by Chinese actress Li Bingbing and Taiwanese actor Winston Chao). It's a nice bit of cast diversification on top of the core cast that comes from a variety of backgrounds. But where it really turns up the dials, is in the final set-piece, taking place on a densely populated beach off of one of the country's big resort islands. When you see it, if you see it, you'll know what I mean. The Meg follows the recent Skyscraper in playing hard to this ever-important audience, and it'll be fascinating to see if that pays off dividends for them or sets some new precedent.

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: To really dig into why The Meg doesn't work could take all day, so instead I'll just burrow down into a few key points:

1. It's tremendously boring. For a film like this to actually work, it really needs to bear its weight into one of two modes: horror or ridiculousness. Instead what we end up with here is a $150 million dollar version of an Asylum direct to DVD product. The cast never seems game enough to play up the humor that's so inherent in a premise like this, it's not gory enough to appease the bloodhounds, and the shark lacks any kind of threat or scare-factor. The Meg's final sequence is where things seem to start to actually get cooking on the b-movie carnage, but by then, you've already plunked down more than 90 minutes of your time, and it's really nothing more than a tantalizing taste of what should have been.

2. The script is, largely, awful. Here's an example of the central line that's repeated more than once, "It's not about who you lose, it's about who you save." I think the first time I heard it, I did a audible "pfft" in the theater, the second time it came around, I was already so over everything that I just let it wash over me, like a hideous blanket made up of Statham's furrowed brow, green screen and theater farts. There's nary a character in this thing, and to be clear, when someone dies it's almost unnoticeable. I'm still not totally sure I understand why Statham's character is even in this movie, and to even touch upon the non-existent romantic tension between he and Bingbing's character is more than I have the energy to venture into. Also, Rainn Wilson gets to play a billionaire entrepreneur....lol. 

3. It looks like crap. Again, this movie cost $150 million dollars to make, yet prior to learning that I was convinced it had to of cost no more than $30-40 mil. I don't know where that money went, but it sure didn't go into the 4 sets that Turtletaub and company kept revisiting. Honestly, the best effect in the entire thing had to be the giant ball that one dude in the end kept rolling around in. Get me one of those, is really the point I'm trying to make with all of this.

Final Verdict: It's clear The Meg has no idea what kind of movie it wanted to be, other than one that tried to appeal to a bunch of different demographics. Instead it's just a joyless mess and one of the year's worst films.

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