The Meg (Jon Turteltaub, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Have no fear, O Bruce the Shark (of Jaws fame): though you be but a (mechanical) great white, no (CGI) megalodon – the largest shark that ever lived! – can take you, whatever images we see in The Meg, thenew blockbuster-hopeful thriller from Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure). Good fun in many ways, this latest fantastical fish tale lacks the sharp dramatic bite and tasty narrative morsels of that 1975 classic. Still, it offers some cinematic treats of its own, including a pleasant and diverse ensemble headlined by the always watchable Jason Statham (The Mechanic). With solid supporting work from folks like Winston Chao (1911), Cliff Curtis (The Dark Horse), Page Kennedy (Gerald on the short-lived CBS series Rush Hour) – though his character flirts dangerously with African-American stereotypes – Li Bingbing (Resident Evil: Retribution), Rainn Wilson (The Rocker) and others, including the adorably precocious young actress Shuya Sophia Cai, it mainly succeeds in what it sets out to do, which is entertain.
It is not hard to imagine, therefore, that The Meg should take a solid chomp out of this weekend’s box office, though the silliness of its conceit will probably keep it from completely swimming away with the summer. Statham plays Jonas Taylor, who in a prologue sequence leaves beloved friends to die in a deep-sea rescue mission interrupted by something … big … unseen by all but sensed by him. Flash forward five years and Jonas is drinking himself to oblivion in Thailand while some erstwhile colleagues now work for Chinese scientific entrepreneur Zhang (Chao), who has built an offshore marine-biology research facility near the Mariana Trench, all funded by billionaire Morris (Wilson).
The team’s goal is to go beyond the perceived bottom of the trench – ostensibly a layer of near-frozen gasses below which mysterious life forms may thrive – and explore the unknown. Unfortunately, the advance submersible, with three crew members aboard, is attacked by something … big … and disabled. Apparently, despite his disgrace and current state of inebriation, there’s only man to save them, so off Zhang and mission commander Mac (Curtis) go to recruit Jonas. Meanwhile, Zhang’s biologist daughter Suyin (Li) – mother to cute kid Meiying (Cai) – jumps in a sea craft of her own to plunge 11,000 meters down before it’s too late. Will Jonas pull through? Stay tuned. And that’s only the opening half hour …
Soon, after that baroque set-up is complete, we meet the monster from the deep which, it turns out, is a long-extinct (or so we thought) megalodon – again, the largest shark that ever lived! – and the movie really gets going. Chewing away at fellow fish, sea mammals and humans with equal abandon, the “meg,” as s/he is quickly dubbed, proves a formidable opponent to those chasing it. Unfortunately, despite the often-tense, well-rendered action scenes, Turtletaub and his three screenwriters – working from a book by Steve Alten – insist on a lot of sentimental filler between barely sketched characters that does little more than slow things down.
Fortunately, Statham and company have oodles of charisma to spare, for the most part carrying us through the sections that stop the story cold. I wish that Kennedy’s DJ – tech savvy but ocean stupid – weren’t written to crack wise and manic all the time, as are so many other black screen parts, but you can’t have everything, and there’s enough self-awareness in some of his dialogue to carry us through the cringe. Given that we need to suspend our disbelief for the majority of the movie, anyway, perhaps the best approach is to just sit back, enjoy the cast, the tongue-in-cheek humor, and the giant shark’s ongoing feeding frenzy. Just don’t go in the water.