Action 'Rampage," comedic 'Troopers,' Schumer

By Tom Von Malder | Jul 21, 2018
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Dwayne Johnson co-stars with an albino silverback gorilla in "Rampage," inspired by the 1980s arcade game.

Owls Head — Rampage (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 107 min.). Dwayne Johnson does it again, lifting "Rampage" with his personality, and the marvelous special effects help as well, as a trio of giant monsters realistically destroy downtown Chicago.

Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye, who works at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. His favorite rescue is George, an albino silverback gorilla who can sign and actually has a sense of humor. However, George becomes one of three animals infected by a pathogen that was being tested on a space station. After the station is destroyed by a giant, mutated rat, the shuttle containing samples of the Project Rampage pathogen is destroyed when entering the Earth's atmosphere, but the sample containers make it to Earth, albeit damaged. The other two infected animals are a crocodile in the Everglades and a wolf in Wyoming.

The pathogen, developed by a company run by siblings Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) as a possible weapon, makes creatures who ingest it grow large at a phenomenal rate and have extreme aggression, thus making them incredibly hungry. The pathogen was developed by subsequently-fired geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who seeks out Okoye, when she learns from a TV newscast about George's grow spurt and killing of a grizzly bear. The pathogen was developed using CRISPR (a real thing) technology of genetic editing, infusing DNA with traits chosen from other species.

George actually is the most fully developed character in the film. Okoye is all charisma and a backstory that says he basically likes animals better than humans. Caldwell is barely fleshed out as well. As the villains, the Wydens are more silly than evil, especially Brett. Why would the villains draw three very large, powerful and aggressive predators towards their headquarters in Chicago instead of, say, to a more controllable environment? However, that is what they do with a radio signal that that the pathogen forces the animals to respond to with a desire to destroy its source.

One does not really watch this type of film for character development though. It is all about the mayhem and destruction of buildings and so on. That is just my cup of tea, as one of the seminal movies I saw in the theater as a child was "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1959). And this film delivers, much as did "San Andreas" (2015), the earthquake movie that starred Johnson and also was directed by Brad Peyton. Johnson and Peyton also worked together in the well-received "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island."

The Wydens send out a military-like team, headed by Burke (Joe Manganiello), to Wyoming to capture the wolf. The failed hunt is an exciting sequence that sees the wolf knock down a helicopter. George, meanwhile, is being transported by the military and a secretive government agency, represented by Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of TV's "The Walking Dead" with a sideways Southern accent). Let's just say the ride does not go smoothly. The crocodile's path north is a bit uneventful, as little is shown of it.

The film ups its game in merging real Chicago with computer-generated destruction. The results are quite spectacular and detailed in the "Attack on Chicago" bonus featurette (10:23). Other excellent extras include how Weta Digital designed and brought the creatures to life (10:08) and a look at motion-capture actor Jason Liles and his instructor, Terry Notary, as they bring George to "life" (11:53). By the way, Notary's two daughters perform as gorillas in an early scene. Notary himself has worked on four ape films, including playing King Kong.

What I did not know until viewing the extras is that "Rampage" is based on an arcade game of the same name in which a giant gorilla, crocodile and wolf literally pound buildings to destroy them. (I guess I missed the 1980s somehow.)  The creatures were called George, Ralph and Lizzie, the same as in the film. A featurette looks at the original game and how it influenced the film (6:15; the only extra on the DVD version, all others are Blu-ray exclusives). There also are seven deleted scenes (10:12), some with unfinished creatures.  Two versions of a deleted scene hint at a fourth creature, a giant octopus. There also is a gag reel (2:43) and a look at some of the wire work and the actors' combat training (10:45), including previz footage. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Super Troopers 2 (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 99 min.). There is a lot of silly fun as the actors of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe return as the characters made famous in the 2001 first film. Again, the main characters are flippant Vermont State Troopers, only this time they have been fired. However, when it is discovered that part of Canada abutting Northern Vermont really belongs to the United States, they are hired on a provisional basis to take over from the Mounties.

Directed once again by troupe member Jay Chandrasekhar, "Super Troopers 2" brings back the five-man creative team as co-writers and stars, with Brian Cox reprising his role as the troopers’ ornery commander, Capt. John O'Hagan. Chandrasekhar plays Thorny, while Steve Lemme is Mac, Erik Stolhanske is Rabbit, Paul Soter is Foster and Kevin Heffernan is Farva. On the opposite sides are Mounties Podien (Hayes MacArthur), Bellefuile (Tyler Labine) and Archambault (Will Sasso). Also on the Canadian side are Rob Lowe as Mayor Guy LeFranc, who owns a bordello that offers both men and women, and Emmanuelle Chrique as Genevieve Aubois. Lynda Carter plays Vermont Gov. Jessman.

In addition to some wacky infighting among the Troopers and a couple of brawls, the Mounties let loose a bear in the police station and the Troopers take the three Mounties deep into the woods, steal their clothes and then make ridiculous traffic stops to earn the Mounties a bad name. There is a funny (pot induced?) opening in which the Troopers play the rock band Cracklin' Bacon. Three guest stars participate. What plot there is concerns smuggled pills (including Flova Scotia for females that one of the Troopers gets hooked on), fake iPhones, Cuban cigars and AK48s. The film has lots of Fred Savage references, so watch through the closing credits to find out what happened to him, as well as some outtakes and a post-credits scene.

Extras include a making-of feature (39:50), which explains the film's Indiegogo funding campaign and has much behind-the-camera footage, a short on Heffernan's acting (1:50) and seven extended, eight deleted and six alternate scenes (total 19:40). Some hilarious stuff ended on the cutting room floor, including the bear going for the shaving cream, a funnier version of the "deaf and blind" Mounties and an extended drunk driving test, with the driver apparently an accomplished juggler. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars

I Feel Pretty (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 11 min.). Amy Schumer ("Trainwreck," "Snatched") produces and stars in this film about a woman who struggles with feelings of insecurity and low-esteem. It does not help that Renee (Schumer) works for the high-end cosmetics line, Lily LeClair, which uses thin, beautiful models to sell its merchandise. Renee is stuck in a two-person office in Chinatown, where she handles online sales for the company. Her two best friends are Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps), and they are always unsuccessfully trying to get dates.

Renee's dream job would be  being the new receptionist at Lily LeClair's main office, even though she does not fit the physical profile the company is seeking. One day, Renee bangs her head after falling off a cycling machine at the gym. When she wakes up, she believes a miracle has occurred and she is now beautiful, even though nothing has changed physically. (One has to admit that Renee is the best looking of the three friends to start with.) With her new found confidence, Renee applies for the receptionist job, gets it and soon is helping company owner Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams using a weird, squeaky voice) prepare the company's new diffusion line of less expensive cosmetics to be sold in Target stores. She also manages to land a boyfriend (Rory Scovel as Nathan), almost win a bikini bar contest with a funny, winning speech and attracts the interest of very handsome Grant LeClair (Tom Hopper), Avery's playboy brother. Lauren Hutton plays their grandmother, Lily LeClair.

I most enjoyed Renee's interactions with Nathan, who sees the bright, funny, confident person in the not-so-perfect body. Also, the oh-so-confident Renee is a joy to watch as she talks her way into success. When Renee bumps her head again and "comes down to earth," the film starts to lose me. Plus, the big moment when Renee realizes the two versions are really the same person is a bit mishandled and false to what has gone before, when the film has said it is not what makeup or clothes one wears that makes a person fully realized.

The film is the directorial debut of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, the longtime writing team responsible for "Never Been Kissed, "How To Be Single" and "He's Just Not That Into You." Extras include six deleted scenes (8:50), a gag reel (5:24) and a "Being Pretty" featurette (54 secs.). Grade: film  3 stars; extras 1 star

Blumehouse's Truth or Dare (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR/PG-13, 100/99 min.). This is a bad generic horror film that reminded me at times of the "Final Destination" series, but lacks the cheekiness in the manner of deaths in those films. Most of the time, this film does not make a lot of sense.

We first meet Olivia (Lucy Hale of "Scream 4"), when she is tricked out of working for Habitat for Humanity during spring break by her best friend Markie (Violet Beane). Instead, she is dragged to Mexico, along with Markie, Lucas (Tyler Posey of MTV's "Teen Wolf"), Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), Brad (Hayden Szeto) and Ronnie (Sam Lerner). Ronnie is the over-the-top horndog, Brad is gay but not out to his cop father and Markie and Lucas are a couple, but Olivia has a crush on Lucas. At a bar in Mexico, Olivia meets Carter (Landon Liboiron), who talks them into going with him to an abandoned monastery, where they play truth or dare. It turns out that Carter's dare was to bring more people into an ongoing, deadly game. Those who fail to tell the truth or perform the dare die.

As their friends start dying, those remaining try to work out the game's rules and see if they can subvert the game, although eventually it is back to Mexico to confront the demon behind the game. The latter makes for a particularly stupid ending. Also, it is silly when people develop weird "demon" faces -- I guess they are momentarily possessed -- when they deliver the "truth or dare" line and what the dare is. The film comes in two cuts that are about the same length (31 seconds different).  Bonus features include audio commentary by co-writer/director Jeff Wadlow and actress Hale; a plot-heavy making-of (6:49); and a look at directing the deaths (4:15). Grade: film 1.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Terminal (RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 95 min.). This is a noir would-be thriller that does not thrill. Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya" and a producer here) plays Annie, aka Bottle Blonde, who is attempting to rub out her assassin competition to inherit the kill contracts of Mr. Franklyn (not seen until the end, but no surprise at all who it is). The competition is the team of Vince (Dexter Fletcher) and Alfred (Max Irons, currently starring in DirecTV's "Condor" mini-series, a much better effort). Annie also engages with Bill (Simon Pegg of "Hot Fuzz," "Shaun of the Dead"), a dying English teacher who stops at the train station's End of the Line Cafe. (He's terminal too; get it.) Rounding out the small cast is Mike Meyers (the "Austin Powers" films) as Clinton, the night manager of the Terminal train station.

The plot is not good, and often slow. Annie seems to be an assassin who likes to toy with her targets first. Even the late twist is rather pointless, until bolstered by a very long explanation. However, the film has a nice look and opens with James Bond-like music and the actors' names on billboards.

The film was made in Budapest. Extras look at the cast (6:14), building the dystopian world (6:14) and going from concept to creation (2:05). There also is a photo gallery. The writer/director is Vaughn Stein, making his feature deputy after being an assistant director. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 1 star

Black Lightning: The Complete First Season (DC/Warner Bros., 2 Blu-ray or 3 standard DVDs, NR, 544 min.). Based on the comic book that debuted in 1977, this TV version of the American-American character came out the same year as the "Black Panther" movie (Marvel rather than DC) and some 16 months after Marvel's "Luke Cage" debuted on Netflix.

The show stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce, the father of two daughters enrolled in the charter high school of which he is the principal. The school is supposed to be a haven for young people in a neighborhood overrun by gang violence and drug trafficking. Pierce is seen as a hero in the community, but he has a secret that he was a different kind of hero -- the masked vigilante Black Lightning -- nine years earlier, with the ability to harness and control electricity. When his daughters (Nafessa Williams as Anissa and China Anne McClain as Jennifer) are threatened by the gang the One Hundred, Pierce once again dons the identity of Black Lightning.

Christine Adams plays Pierce's estranged wife Lynn, who knows about his Black Lightning past. James Remar plays Peter Gambi, who helps out Black Lightning.

The show was a mid-season entry of the CW and it took me a bit to get into it as it is very different from the networks' Arrowverse. Bonus features include the 2017 Comic Con panel (17:25), a gag reel (2:15), deleted scenes (32:38), a look at the Pierce family (7:09) and two film in Georgia PSOs (11:15 total). In "Art Imitating Life," we see how creator Salim Akil's real-life experience of arguing with a policeman over a traffic stop was worked into the pilot episode. Grade: season 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

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