At long last, the summer of 2018 has given Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham action movies that make mindless entertaining use of their dumb charms.
Thrust into heightened, ridiculous conflicts whose solving involves equally preposterous set pieces, their latest films keep charging forward with a breezy disregard for realism and an immunity to moral conundrums and lesser distractions that have bogged down many of their past efforts.
The second weekend in July, Johnson gleefully scaled a giant burning building and battled mercenaries to rescue his family in Skyscraper. A month later, Statham goes up against a giant shark released from a previously-uncharted zone beneath the Marianas Trench in The Meg, short for Megalodon.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), the aquatic thriller features a refreshing international cast with winning chemistry, quick with a joke at each other’s expense and sometimes their own.
The scientists (among them Whale Rider’s Cliff Curtis and Transformers: Age of Extinction’s Bingbing Li) and tech experts (John Wick: Chapter 2’s Ruby Rose and TV actor Page Kennedy) on a sophisticated laboratory funded by billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson) in the ocean outside Beijing aren’t developed beyond their commitment to one another and the deep sea exploration at hand, but the characterization is generally sufficient to keep the plot moving.
Into the fold comes Statham’s Jonas, the only man in the world (!!!) with rescue experience at the depth at which part of the team is trapped, though also someone still smarting from losing his two best friends a handful of years earlier on what he thought was his final mission.
Those demons are all The Meg needs to unleash its steady barrage of predatory fish attacks, which Turteltaub enacts with laudable jump-scare timing and believable enough special effects.
Between shark combat scenes, such side arcs as renewed rivalries, a cheesy romantic subplot and a precocious child ground the story just enough on planet Earth to care about the humans facing off against the prehistoric beast — but it’s the toothy monster in whose honor tickets were purchased, and in that regard the movie makes good on its promise.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)