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Movie review: 'The Meg' is no 'Sharknado,' which is a bummer


August 10, 2018

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“THE MEG” — 2½ stars — Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose; PG-13 (action/peril, bloody images and some language); in general release

Seems like we’re getting about one “legit” shark movie a summer now. Last year we got “47 Meters Down,” and the summer before that we got Blake Lively in “The Shallows.”

It’s hard to say how much of this comes from the popularity of “Shark Week” or the deliberately absurd “Sharknado” series — of course it all traces back to “Jaws” — but this year’s offering wants to blend the more serious horror vibe of the last two summer films with the campiness of the Sci-Fi Channel schlock-fest.

That being said, “The Meg” is fun, but it isn’t really crazy, and it could have used a bit more crazy.

Jon Turteltaub's film follows the story of a 25-meter super-shark (the prehistoric Megalodon) that emerges from the depths to wreak havoc on scientists, vacationers and little puppy dogs.

The Meg shows up thanks to a team of scientists who believe that an undiscovered world may lie beneath the Mariana Trench, up until now thought to be the deepest spot on Earth. Funded by an eccentric billionaire named Morris (Rainn Wilson), the team punctures the trench floor with a tiny submarine — proving their theory correct —+ and releases an unholy terror on the world above.

“The Meg’s” protagonist is a human, which is unfortunate since an entire film shot from the shark’s perspective might be a lot of fun. Jason Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a rescue pilot called out of preemptive retirement to save the crew in the Trench, which includes his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). From there, Jonas has to spearhead the effort to stop The Meg.

The cast is fleshed out by a group of characters large enough to provide the requisite cannon fodder for the shark. Cliff Curtis plays Mac, Jonas’s old friend who is now working on Morris’s team. In spite of Lori’s presence, Jonas’s romantic lead is Suyin (Bingbing Li), the headstrong daughter of the team leader, Zhang (Winston Chao). Her young daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) is a scene-stealer, able to get laughs with little more than a raised eyebrow.

“The Meg’s” narrative, penned by a trio of credited screenwriters and — believe it or not — adapted from a 1997 novel from sci-fi author Steve Alten, evolves from a rescue movie to an open-water showdown to a climax in a crowded beach resort. Though the earlier parts of the film have their highlights, it’s only in that third act that “The Meg” really gets up to speed.

Part of the problem is that Turtletaub and Co. seem to be following a “Jaws” strategy of working their way into things slowly, and keeping their monster under wraps for a big reveal. But while this worked for Spielberg, who built considerable tension and authentic horror on a foundation of strong character development, “The Meg” feels like a better fit for something a little more over the top.

The action is fine, but it never really stands out. The dialogue is weak, but never bad enough to be truly fun. The CGI seems perched halfway between “legitimately scary” and “Sharknado-cornball.”

As a forgettable late summer B-movie, “The Meg” should work fine for audiences looking for a simple night out — and you could make the argument that that is all these movies are really shooting for — but there’s potential here for a genuinely good time if the people involved had pulled out a few more of the crazy stops. “The Meg” was never going to be “Jaws,” but it still feels like a missed opportunity to be something of its own.

“The Meg” is rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language; running time: 113 minutes.

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