Is it possible for a film to be not bad enough?
Maybe that’s the wrong way to frame it. Shoddiness comes not just in quantity but in flavour: there’s good-bad, bad-bad, no-budget-bad, cheesy-bad, doomed-from-birth-bad. Producing high-yield schlock involves a precise cocktail of badness. The problem with The Meg, which feels like the frazzled product of heatwaved heads, is in its badness ratio: not enough fun-bad, too much boring-bad.
The Meg, in which Jason Statham takes on a giant shark with growling one-liners and a steady harpoon arm, goes for two genre tones, and ends up splitting the difference. One is the cornball mega-monster silliness the Sci-Fi channel have weaponized into can-you-believe-this virality: Sharknado with cash. The other is the big set-piece blockbuster of Hard Man vs. Nature, which we saw a few months ago in Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage. Unable to fully commit to its own ridiculousness, The Meg tip-toes gingerly on the water’s edge. Dive in!
Statham, at least, is having some fun as Jonas Taylor, a disgraced marine rescue diver who drinks away his guilt in a Thai shack, called out of retirement for one last mission. The underwater research station Mana One has pierced what was believed to be the ocean floor, and found a whole new eco-system underneath. But there’s something else living there, something gargantuan and pre-historic, a 70-foot super-shark named the Megalodon who likes to terrorize unwelcome aquatic visitors. When a crew, including Jonas’ ex-wife (Jessica McNamee), get trapped on the bottom of the bottom, it’s up to Jonas to save them and his reputation. You see, this Meg thing seems awfully similar to the unseen monster that fucked up Jonas’ last tragic operation. And they said he was crazy!
When Statham is giving shit to the douche billionaire funder (Rainn Wilson), alpha-dogging every room he’s in androlling up his sleeves for a good ol’ scraaap with the super-shark, The Meg is exactly what you want it to be.
But very little else in the film matches Statham’s energy. The screenplay, from Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, gives us a supporting crew with the usual quirks: androgynous female with badass fringe (Ruby Rose); honourable Japanese guy (Heroes’ Masi Oka); loud black guy who can’t believe this shit (Page Kennedy). Statham’s love interest is Suyin (Bingbing Li), whose lead scientist father (Winston Chao) and wildly unsupervised daughter eat up too much screentime.
Maybe it’s a play for bigger Chinese receipts (along with the movie’s particular off-shore setting), but the attempt at earnest melodrama with Suyin’s family falls flat, mostly because Li and Chao are awkward performers, and cannot deliver the dialogue with the irony it needs. When Suyin declares that the shark has ‘already proved aggressive towards boats’, the audience laughed at her, not with her. There’s a good bit of laughing at, thanks to moments of weird pacing. And there’s a lot of waiting about too, with computer screens and comm breakdowns and tin-eared little speeches about SCIENCE. The Meg has too much chattin’ shit, not enough gettin’ hit.
Schlock, stock and too few smoking barrels. Conor Smyth
The Meg is out on wide release.