'The Meg' promises a far bigger bite than it can deliver

'The Meg' promises a far bigger bite than it can deliver
August 27, 2018

Where was the block-long shark we were promised? This thing's only 70 feet!


This time, the shark jumps you! So one would think, seeing the prehistoric megashark on the poster, large enough to scarf down an entire sharknado and its whirling angry denizens. The Meg baits and switches. The shark is only a measly 70 feet long, Certainly, this Meg has its moments. When it circles a crippled boat, its dorsal fin looks like the tail of a 727. But in closeups, the hellfish looks like the vegan shark in Finding Nemo. Only smaller.

Much of this movie takes place in a futuristic sea-base Mana One, which looks like surplus from a Gerry Anderson puppet show. A mixed group of scientists, hanging around exclaiming at what they're seeing on screens include, but are not limited to: the spiky Angelina Jolie-esque one (Ruby Rose) DJ, the jittery urban one (Page Kennedy), the sage old scientist one (Winston Chao) and his pretty, sad-faced daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing). Below them, plummeting into a deep sea trench, which turns out to have a sub-basement full of prehistoric megasharks, are Masi Oka of Heroes and the massive Scandinavian Olafur Darri Olafsson, who is called "The Wall" and who functions as ballast.

Since there are neither sharknadoes, sharkicanes, sharkphoons or sharkderechos here, the most interesting aspect of The Meg is the international style that comes from Chinese financing; It's the cinematic equivalent of Asian-Fusion. Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson, no help), the American millionaire who bankrolled Mana One, is the Occidental version of the Chinese villains of the old days. He's gauche, unscrupulous and, worse, a giver of unwanted hugs.

For its blood and viscera, The Meg is fairly puritanical, as fits this era of Chinese blockbusters—the height of sensuality in the film is Bingbing secretly peeping at the undressed lead Jason Statham. His Jonas is a deep sea diver who has to redeem himself after he failed to rescue friends from the giant shark attack several years back. Nobody believed his wild talk of megasharks, so he retired and became a beer drinker on a Thailand beach. He may be beering it, but he still has his six-pack. Statham's muscles haven't failed him, though sadly, he never once gives The Meg a cockney headbutt, his usual secret weapon.

Director Jon Turteltaub is too much of a mench to really turn the screws. The Meg's target audience, the bloody-minded kid who wishes shark week was every week, isn't over served with guts and chum. Some shark-fin harvesters get it worse than anyone, so that's fine, but there's neither speedy fun or much emotional investment in this. "When the shark die, nobody cry," as the producer Dino De Laurentiis once said, comparing the importance of his King Kong remake to the hit Jaws. Nor are there any Melvilleisms about how the seabeast is but a mask of some nameless, formless adversary of mankind. Statham's not the man for that kind of metaphysics, anyway. Why, in this stage of his career, should he start acting?

Things kind of go back and forth—Suyin being intrepid again and again, and rebelliously taking command of a one-person sub, and the supporting cast getting pruned by a shark attack or two. Amidst this, the movie's most head-scratching moment: an inadvisable piece of shark-luring where they tie Statham's Jonah to a line and reel him past the shark as if he were live bait.

One shouldn't be ungrateful for something that is what it is, or at least is trying to be what it is. There are very occasional comedic moments, as when the shark gets a harpoon full of poison, and its eyes roll up in its head. It's one of those movies that never really gets its engine running until the finale, when the creature heads to the seaside crowds at Sanya Bay. It's an all you can eat buffet of disagreeable people, include some clown floating in a giant hamster ball, a husky 'little emperor' boy who sasses his mother and keeps a popsicle jammed in his yap, and the yachting members of a grossly wealthy wedding party, complete with an annoying lap dog called Pippin.

Perhaps Crazy Rich Asians could have been improved by a giant shark? These scenes resemble a Stephen Chow slapstick comedy, but it doesn't get to the next level where Chow would have taken it--the characters are laid out but there's neither menace or a payoff. Like the victims of the giant squid attack at the beginning, you end up suckered.

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