So i have been away from a movie theater for a couple of weeks and I have missed some films that I hope to catch up with soon. This weekend’s big release is something that I did look forward to, so as soon as I got the chance this weekend, I took a dive into South Pacific waters, along with Jason Statham, in search of “The Meg”. Director Jon Turteltaub is not so much of an auteur as he is an audience serving professional. The story of a giant, pre-historic shark suddenly being let loose on the world doesn’t call for a cinematic light touch. It demands that you push the right popcorn buttons, and as the guy who brought us the two National Treasure movies, Mr. Turteltaub seems to be a good fit.
In terms of entertainment value for your summer dollars, which Hollywood depends on, “The Meg” is on a par with the recent Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Skyscraper“. In fact, I was thinking of another comparison when this came to mind. Back in the 1970s, Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were regular faces on the silver screen, especially in the summertime. Both of those guys had big charisma that carried films that were not always great but were worthy because of their presence in them. Burt had a whole host of summer films in the 70s ; “The Longest Yard“, “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings“, “Smokey and the Bandit“. Clint of course was the cowboy of the 70s but his summer output included films; “The Eiger Sanction“, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” as well as “The Outlaw Josey Wales“. Together, those two icons dominated several of the summers of my youth. In forty years. this generation will look back on the films off Statham and Johnson in a similar way. Although Dwayne Johnson is the natural heir to the Schwarzenegger/Stallone mantle, he has a comedic persona that those two never managed to quite get, despite “Kindergarten Cop”. Statham is more closely connected to the Charles Bronson mold of tough guy. What I think is effective for both Statham and Johnson is that they appear in a variety of films but their persona and personality are what makes the movies work. That’s why I like the analogy to Reynolds and Eastwood. “The Meg” is Jason Statham’s summer film an the same way that “Skyscraper” is Johnson’s entry for the hot season.
Fortunately, Jason Statham’s tough guy facade is just right for this movie. He is a reluctant deep sea rescue expert who gets called upon to effect a rescue that he wants nothing to do with. Just like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” and Johnson in “Skyscraper”, Statham’s character Jonas is the right guy in the wrong place at the right time. While he is not required to spin kick the shark in the face, he actually does end up going toe to fin with it at the climax of the movie. In a sort of Ahab with kung fu skills moment, Statham manages to make the completely ridiculous seem reasonable and fun. That is why they hired him. He does get some chances to act as well but since the rest of the story is paper thin, you are not going to pay much attention to any of that.
The film riffs on several elements from other shark based movies. “Jaws” has the greatest number and the most obvious tribute/ripoff moments. When the Megalodon does make it to a beach, there is a whinny kid who wants to go swimming, a frustrated mother, a selfish guy willing to roll over others in trying to escape from the shark and even a dog named Pippen, just a switched consonant away from the sacrificial dog of that great film. We also have a pig headed billionaire, who has financed the project which brings the Megladon to the surface. Rainn Wilson may not have Samuel Jackson’s vocabulary. but he does have a similar story line to the one in “Deep Blue Sea”. There is also an L.L. Cool J stand in with moments of comic relief.
This movie does not aspire to be an adventure film like “Jaws” was. It is closer to the action film of “Deep Blue Sea”, with a science fiction component and a “Jurassic Park” mindset. There is a little bit of lip service paid to the notion of man screwing up Mother Nature, but frankly Winston Chao is no Jeff Goldblum and the screenwriters are not collaborating with Steven Spielberg for character ideas. This is a simple movie that is closer to the chase the victim plot of “Jaws 2” than the man aginst nature brutality of the original “Jaws”. Plus Jason Statham can swim and beat up a shark a thousand times bigger than him. Extra butter on the popcorn will help. I chose to see this in 3-D, because if you are going for the cheese, you might as well add the mayonnaise.