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Shark weak – ‘The Meg’

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After nearly a decade of reviewing movies, I’ve learned that some of the best cinematic experiences come from sitting down with simple expectations and having those expectations met. When you know what you want to get from a movie and then get exactly that, well – you’ve won.

However, that also means that when those simple expectations AREN’T met, you’re even more disappointed than you might otherwise be in a less-than-stellar film.

This brings us to “The Meg,” a movie that would seem to have it all: Jason Statham, a giant shark, a … well, that’s it, I suppose. Jason Statham and a giant shark. Those six words would almost seem like a guarantee of a goofy good time at the movies - ludicrous CGI and over-the-top action sequences and shark-pun-laden one-liners galore.

But while all of those things are there, “The Meg” never quite rises up to become even the sum of its parts, instead wandering along in a disjointed and haphazard progression, unable to decide whether to take itself seriously or to throw the metaphorical elbow to our ribs and hence arriving in a weird tonal limbo where we’re not sure how we’re supposed to react. Are we laughing? Are we tense? We don’t know … and neither does the movie.

Statham plays Jonas Taylor, an elite deep diver who has left the game after a mysterious incident during a rescue leads to the death of the rest of his team. The powers that be call him crazy, but he knows what he thinks he saw. He walks away, but we know he’ll be pulled back in.

He’s brought back because of a massive oceanic research project run by Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao, “Skiptrace”) and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li, “Guardians of the Tomb”) and financed by weirdo billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson, “Permanent”). See, apparently the floor of the Marianas Trench isn’t actually the ocean floor at all, but rather a cloud of hydrogen sulfide that can be breached – and is - by one of the project’s submarines.

But there’s something down there. Something massive. Something that the sub’s pilot Lori (Jessica McNamee, “Battle of the Sexes”) realizes is the same thing that Jonas – who just happens to be her ex-husband – saw.

Project manager Mac (Cliff Curtis, TV’s “Fear the Walking Dead”) tracks Jonas down and brings him in; since he’s the only person with the experience necessary to pull this off, he’s the only choice. This doesn’t sit well with project physician Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor, TV’s “Longmire”), who is of course the doctor who declared Jonas crazy after the last incident.

You’ll be shocked to learn that Jonas was right and that there’s a megalodon – a gigantic prehistoric shark – living down in the depths, trapped by the supercold waters created by the hydrogen sulfide. You’ll ALSO be shocked to learn that the project’s meddling leads to the megalodon making its way out of the depths to wreak havoc. It’s up to Jonas and the team – the aforementioned plus a handful of cardboard cutouts, including computer cliché Jaxx (Ruby Rose, “Pitch Perfect 3”), scaredy-cat tech DJ (Page Kennedy, “FML”) and a weird fat Scandinavian guy called The Wall (Olafur Darri Olafsson, TV’s “Lady Dynamite”) – to stop the shark before it, I don’t know, eats everyone.

Obviously, you don’t go into a movie like “The Meg” expecting cinematic brilliance. But you DO go in with the idea that you are going to see Jason Statham fighting a giant shark. And to be fair, you do get that. Still, it doesn’t quite click on the level it needs to. The biggest issue is the aforementioned inability to settle on what it wants to be; the dissonance basically results in a movie that is neither good enough nor bad enough to be really fun – and fun is the primary reason for seeing this kind of movie in the first place.

First and foremost, we need to talk about the shark. It’s … fine. You almost wish that if they weren’t able to pull things off a little better, they’d just go full cheese with it. Instead, you get moments that work right next to jarringly bad ones. Just one more example of the lack of consistency that is this movie’s primary problem.

You’re getting Standard Issue Statham (SIS) here; he glowers and growls and occasionally allows his face to soften ever-so-slightly when he wants to convey the notion of feelings. He is what he is (which is a cinematic treasure, by the way), but the film never quite uses him optimally. The rest of the supporting cast is game, but none of them really get a lot to do. Wilson feels hilariously out of place, like a last-second replacement after three other dudes dropped out, though his performance is ultimately one of the better ones. We initially think Li’s going to have something for us, but it doesn’t take long for her to be shoved into the love interest corner. Nobody else makes much of an impression; Rose and Scandinavian Guy probably come the closest.

All I wanted from “The Meg” was a fun time at the movies. Jason Statham and a giant shark – that should have been more than enough. Instead, I got intermittent entertainment surrounded by rough seas. Not the worst experience, but it’s definitely an opportunity missed.

[2.5 out of 5]

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