Lightning Review of The Meg

Monster shark feature The Meg, directed by Jon Turteltaub with a screenplay by Erich Hoeber, Dean Georgaris, and Jon Hoeber manages to etch itself into pleasant B-movie fair that will likely be shelved as one of those films that you can happily revisit on a lazy, Sunday afternoon.

A group of scientists unintentionally unearth a 75-foot Megalodon shark (thought to be extinct) while exploring the deep depths of the sea…understandable mayhem ensues. The film is based off of a 1997 novel by Steve Alten and was produced by Warner Bros. Pictures and China’s Gravity Pictures.

Characters worth knowing

When you’re doing a B-movie creature feature or any film about killer animals, one of the aspects that a lot of these movies tend to lack are interesting human characters, especially side-characters. This should be a given, but for some reason, many filmmakers think that we should be bored to death during the moments where something isn’t trying to take a bite out of someone. Even in a B-movie you don’t get to drop the ball on the ‘boring’ scenes. Even better…your movie should never be boring, even when ‘nothing’ is going on.

Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea (1999) was a cheesy movie but it had characters with adequately unique personalities that occasionally even provided humor. The same with its predecessors like DeepStar Six (1989) (who could forget the complete disaster of a human being that was Miguel Ferrer’s Snyder), and Leviathan (1989)(Who didn’t feel good watching Meg Foster’s vile Ms. Martin receive a knuckle sandwich from Peter Weller’s Steven Beck…try doing that in a movie made today). Juxtapose them with the characters from say 47 Meters Down (2017), for instance, of whom I can barely remember; in fact, I don’t think anyone does.

The Meg has several above average characters: Jason Statham’s Jonas, Winston Chao’s Zhang, Jessica McNamee’s Lori. Robert Taylor’s Heller (whose character for a time was most satisfyingly unlikeable). I thought Bingbing Li’s Suyin was good enough, but she needs to talk with her agent. Her lines were awful, as were Rainn Wilson’s Morris.

I felt that Rainn Wilson was having a tough time finding his footing with his character. Out of all the cast, his performance may have been affected the worst by the poor writing.

Page Kennedy had me yearning for the relatively nuanced performance of LL Cool J’s Preacher character in the aforementioned Deep Blue Sea. Kennedy’s loud, hey I’m black and very opinionated schtick was almost too much to bear at times. I found myself hoping he would be the next one to vanish inside the jowls of a prehistoric fish. I don’t know if he came up with that portrayal, Turteltaub, or the writers…but someone should have put a stop to it.

As for Ruby Rose…after watching her attempts to emote in this film I think her new Batwoman series on the CW is in a world of trouble…egads.

What I thought worked best

One of the elements that worked best about The Meg is that it doesn’t rely on strictly Shark-based action to supply the thrills and chills. Underwater exploration is rife with all manner of peril and helmer Jon Turteltaub (and to its writers’ credit, the screenplay) do a good job of exploiting that. It gave the film a more fleshed-out feel. Killer sharks are one thing, but don’t forget, asphyxiation, pointy objects or a ship landing on top of your head will kill you just as well. Turteltaub, whose work I haven’t seen since 2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, keeps things interesting visually. His shooting from the perspective of person in the sea (head bobbing just above the horizon) was handled more effectively than other films of this ilk in my opinion. I also felt he did an excellent job pulling back to wider shots from time to time to remind us just how large this shark is. There are a few times where the shark movement is a tad too cartoonish or anthropomorphized but not so much that it took me completely out of the film…as was the case with the lackluster yet simultaneously ridiculous The Shallows (2016).

He fell short a few times dealing with the people and the horrible dialogue. This, unfortunately, also extended to the handling of poor acting. When a character is doing a horrific job of expressing grief…it’s probably not the best idea to highlight this by having a close-up of their face unless A) You actually think they’re nailing it or B) they ticked you off and you are now getting some directorial payback by sullying their resume.

Jason Statham was genetically designed for these types of films. In this one he gets the job done. He makes tangling with a 70 ft shark seem as natural as making a cup of coffee.  Statham, Bingbing Li, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis and little Shuya Sophia Cai did the best they could with a poor script. I would’ve liked to have seen what they did with some real verbal meat.

What was not good

While the plot was intriguing enough, as I mentioned several times before the dialogue was quite, quite bad. Many supposedly comedic lines fell flatter than MoviePass expectations. Some jokes were so awful and ill-conceived I squirmed in my chair.  The poor writing wasn’t limited to humor either. Romance or ‘sexual tension’ was handled so clumsily that you would have thought the lines were written by a ten-year-old…or a 40 year old virgin, take your pick. You can actually see the actors fighting themselves not to ad-lib and interject some more meaningful banter.

Had the dialogue not been stir-fried poo this could have easily been a creature-feature classic for this generation. As it stands, it will have to go down as simply passable B-movie fair.

Maybe the sequel will do better.

3 out of 5 stars

Progressive propaganda rating….not much!

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