Review: The Meg

PLOT: A disgraced rescue diver (Jason Statham) is plucked from retirement to help save the crew of a billion dollar underwater research station, who are being menaced by a giant prehistoric shark.

REVIEW: I really wanted to see THE MEG. Silly sci-fi actioners are a guilty pleasure of mine, accounting for the reason why my positive review of GEOSTORM is among the only “fresh” ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (hey – it was a good bad movie, not vice-versa – an important distinction). One of my favorite guilty pleasures from the last decade is PIRANHA 3D (the less said about the garbage sequel, the better). Silly is good. It’s too bad that THE MEG tries oh so hard to be a legit tentpole actioner.

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There was a time when Steve Alten’s book might have made for a decent blockbuster, but the window for that probably closed somewhere around the time that the very similar DEEP BLUE SEA hit theaters. A late-nineties version of the book, with practical effects for the shark, might have leaned more into being cool than silly, but unconvincing (if wildly expensive) CGI does not lend itself well to what tries to be a straightforward action-thriller.

THE MEG is another expensive co-production with China, and in this regard, it fares better than the recent SKYSCRAPER, in that the cast and story meshes fairly well, without the seemingly obligatory billionaire oligarch coming along to save the day like we got in PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING & SKYSCRAPER. There’s a billionaire this time, played by Rainn Wilson, but he’s mostly played for laughs (even though he’s given some shoehorned in moments to redeem himself).

Our leads here are Jason Statham and Li Bingbing, who make for one of the most awkwardly paired romantic couples in recent years. Li struggles with her English dialogue, while she and Statham are never more than awkward with each other, making it weird when all the supporting characters keep remarking over and over how clearly the two are into each other. Yeah, I didn’t buy it.

Li is better in the action scenes, and I can see why she’s a popular star in her native China. As for Statham, he feels somewhat miscast. Legendary for his physique, it’s strange watching him in a non-fighting role. Imagine if Jean-Claude Van Damme had shown up in a (non-UNIVERSAL SOLDIER) nineties Roland Emmerich movie. He doesn’t get the chance to do what he does best, and his acting limitations are more obvious, especially early on when he’s supposed to be all dissolute and drunk (with his washboard abs – Statham looks like he’s never had a beer or a carb in his life). I hate to say it, but a lighter leading man, like Ryan Reynolds, would have been more appropriate. Statham takes it all a little too seriously, although his scowling glare of vengeance at the shark once a whale has been eaten is good for a few laughs.

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The supporting cast mostly fills out stock parts, with Wilson trying to chew some scenery, although it feels very much like the character was reconfigured in reshoots and re-editing. One moment he’s saving Ruby Rose’s life, the next she’s talking about what a dick he is. It makes the film come off as sloppy. Page Kennedy also gets one of the most embarrassingly anachronistic parts of the year as the constantly terrified black guy. Heck, even DEEP BLUE SEA (a much better film) subverted that tired old stereotype.

On the plus side, Jon Turteltaub has bucked the recent blockbuster trend in some interesting ways, namely opting to have DP Tom Stern shoot the film in a crystal clear, brightly lit way. I’m sick of underlit blockbusters (SOLO), so having a movie actually look beautiful on the premium-priced IMAX screen is a nice touch. The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is also reliably good.

THE MEG isn’t a particularly horrible movie, but it’s definitely a mediocre one. While it’s technically a much more proficient movie than something like JAWS 3D, I bet you’d have more fun staying home and watching the latter. After all – fun is the name of the game for a movie like this. Sadly, I didn’t have much.