Loose lips sink ships in Jon Turteltaub‘s blubbery shark actioner, a ceaselessly talky and endlessly nonsensical ocean-set joyride that should be a hell of a lot more fun than it actually is. Those going in hoping to see an 80-foot shark gnash meddling homo-sapiens to flesh ribbons will find themselves but partially satisfied, destined to wade through the shallows of ungodly writing and forced to endure some of the worst acting in US cineplexes, courtesy of Chinese co-producers and the English-as-a-second-language talent offered up here.
The Megalodon-sized problem lies in the fact that so much of the scene work resolves around eye-rolling exposition dumps between characters you don’t care one iota about and not enough massive sharks eating scores of people. Don’t get me wrong, The Meg chows down on its fair share of victims and there are a score of ludicrous over-the-top moments one would expect in a he-man vs. mega-shark movie of this ilk. There’s just never enough of them to justify all the featherbrained chatter, laughable dialogue and wholly unconvincing performances.
Jason Statham stars in this cockamamie PG-13 ocean-set adventure movie with his typical nonchalant aplomb, his smarmy half-cocked charm a reasonable fit to lead to this kind of ridiculous ensemble, which also features Rainn Wilson as an annoying eccentric billionaire and Page Kennedy as the shamelessly-written token black guy.
The fact that more attention is paid to how Ruby Rose’s chop-hair is oh-so-perfectly draped across her face than anything about her as a character demonstrates how thin these people are. The fact is, everyone is a generic stereotype, mugging hard for the camera, soaking up their monitor minutes. For a movie this diverse, it often feels like a step backwards both from a narrative and inclusion perspective because it falls back on cheap, lazy stereotypes instead of trying something (anything!) new.
Statham is Jonas Taylor, a deep-sea rescuer who years ago chose to sacrifice members of his rescue team in order to save a dozen others. Discredited as crazy for claiming there was some kind of monster responsible for the incident, Jonas is drying up on a Thai beach when approached by old friend Mac (Cliff Curtis, struggling through an Aussie accent) and respected scientist Zhang (Winson Chao, just awful) who recruit him for a rescue mission that involves his ex-wife (Jennifer McNamee) and his personal Moby Dick, the Meg. Large shark madness issues.
You guys, I want to come clean. I sincerely wanted to enjoy The Meg. Though there seems to be no bottom for what kind of spin Hollywood will cook up for sharks (consider actual movies like Avalanche Shark, Dinoshark, Sand Sharks, Sharktopus, 3-Headed Shark Attack, and Mega Shark v. Crocosaurus) when the shark thriller is done right, it gets a lot of mileage from this here critic, having a highly developed fear of those living, gill-breathing, lighting-fast-swimming infinity pools of teeth.
I applaud the cinematic artistry of a blockbuster achievement like Spielberg’s Jaws, the found footage minimalism of Open Water and the campy insanity of Deep Blue Sea. More recently, both The Shallows and 47 Meters Down reignited my fear of sharks, poppy and silly though they were. The Meg is a peg below any of these, never quite stupid, smart, threatening, campy, impressively or silly enough. Much like it’s eponymous Apex predator, The Meg’s writing is downright prehistoric. Look no further than the trio of knuckleheads responsible for writing this abomination to get a good idea of what’s in store. Dean Georgaris (Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life), Jon Hoeber (Battleship) and Erich Hoeber (RED) all claim credit and borrow heavily from the genre while lifting in no small amount of narrative kowtowing to the Chinese. Massive segments of the film are in Mandarin, a side effect of it being a US/Chinese co-production, and though I have no issue reading subtitles, the movie, much like the Matt Damon-starring The Great Wall, exists as a crossroads between what works for US audiences and what works for Chinese audiences and, in effect, fails the sensibilities of both.
This makes for a hodgepodge of Chinese cinema earnestness that pairs rather poorly with the mugging self-awareness from the likes of Statham and Wilson. Equally, Turtletaum’s direction is mostly flat and static, failing to commit to one side of the other; the VFX work never manages to be awe-inspiring and always falls a cut below the 150 million dollar price tag this behemoth is carrying. Finally, the fact that Statham suffers surfs the Meg is a whole new level of disappointment.
There’s a false romanticism stuffed down our gullets in the endless tête-à-têtes betwixt Statham and Bingbing Li (she can’t even open her eyes convincingly), the two lacking any smidgen of chemistry, their interactions awkward and awful to endure and yet the centerpiece of the action. Where The Meg should be opening its jaws to chug unlucky swimmers, it tames, squaring focus on these nap-inducing actors and their juvenile feelings for each other. The formula for The Meg should make for no-brainer entertainment but it’s always just so damn tedious. And like Pop Rocks and an ulcer, tedium and mega-sharks just don’t mix.
CONCLUSION: ‘The Meg’ is at once aggressively stupid and aggressively banal, suffering a bad-to-the-bone script and some truly ghastly performances. The mega-shark action can be a shot of campy adrenaline when it rears its ugly head and there’s a few silly laughs to be had but there’s just not nearly enough of either to make up for this second-rate stupidity of just about everything else, making this killer shark movie hard to watch for all the wrong reasons.