Mostly, this effects-heavy film from director Brad Peyton (who previously directed Johnson in “San Andreas” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) has the unpretentious feel of a 1950s monster movie, with a rogue science project unleashing a trio of genetically edited beasts bent on destruction. It’s not much of a leap, frankly, from nuclear perils of the past — the overgrown ants in “Them” or “Tarantula.”
As usual, it falls to a couple of mismatched scientists to try saving the day, paired with the one government official who isn’t a complete moron. Helpfully, one of those scientists happens to have a special-forces background, allowing him to spend much of the movie doing all kinds of The Rock-like things.
That, of course, would be Johnson’s Davis Okuye, a primatologist whose prize subject — a sign-language-fluent albino gorilla named George — unluckily runs afoul of a pathogen that plummets from the sky, courtesy of an avaricious corporation. It’s headed by a cartoonish pair of villainous siblings, providing a veritable buffet of scenery-chewing for Malin Akerman.
Davis is pretty quickly thrown together with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris, deserving more after her turn in “Moonlight”), a scientist turned whistleblower, who worked for the bad guys and thinks she might know a cure. In the meantime, George begins to grow dramatically and become more aggressive, as do two other creatures that encountered the glowing goop.
The last significant piece of the puzzle is Harvey, a government operative played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who does what he can to bring sly Southern charm to this pretty stock role, which otherwise involves simply trading juvenile insults with Johnson. Unfortunately, Davis has roughly the same relationship with George before he hulks out, and the truth is the movie is a whole lot more interested in its CGI characters than its flesh-and-blood ones, not unlike the currently-in-release “Pacific Rim Uprising.”
“Rampage” does hum along at a reasonably brisk pace from crisis to crisis, and the climactic encounter is loud, destructive and moderately exciting, providing that one’s brain is pretty much packed away by then.
For Johnson, it’s all part of a formula, albeit more generic (the origins notwithstanding) than some of his big-screen adventures. And the news — good or bad, depending on one’s viewpoint — is that if you don’t like this one, his next action vehicle, “Skyscraper,” will open in July — a schedule that’s become predictable in more ways than one.
“Rampage” premieres April 13 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.