Shark Thriller "The Meg" Is A Bush-League Bore

Warner Bros. action-thriller “The Meg” lands in theaters as the priciest shark movie of all time, at once so expensive and so amateurish that the thud of its release could drown out the 188 dB call of a blue whale. Based on author Steve Alten’s 1997 release Meg: A Novel Of Deep Terror, the project lingered in development hell for two decades – right where it belonged. Action star Jason Statham proves no match for the languid direction of Jon Turteltaub and the basic cable-level screenplay mounted by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber.

Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a character that but for his alcoholism could hardly be characterized as anything more than “hero.” Called to underwater research facility Mana One to rescue a group of researchers trapped in a submarine deep in the Mariana Trench, Taylor and the station’s team – including eccentric billionaire owner Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) – discover a 75-foot Megalodon: a prehistoric shark. Team members are saved but not before the shark is unleashed from the trench through a thermal vent, inevitably going on to wreak havoc along the Chinese coastline.

Under the inexplicable impression that it’s broadcasting on the same wavelength as summer blockbuster originator “Jaws,” the film keeps the shark out of sight for forty interminable minutes; a dud of a romance between Taylor and Li Bingbing’s oceanographer Suyin Zhang is no consolation. For an alleged thriller that runs under two hours, that’s a lethal amount time to spend almost exclusively with a ditchwater-dull band of dullards and stereotypes. Out of respect to the actors, they won’t be mentioned here.

A few moderately amusing sequences eventually wash ashore, the best being a boat escape with Taylor being dragged behind, the title character in hot pursuit. A predictable but fun twist follows and for a few minutes “The Meg” is a flicker of the blithely silly 150 million dollar actioner that might have been. But then we come to the big beach scene and the figurative and literal bloodlessness of it all sinks in. The picture is PG-13 to its core, a spiritless exercise in half thrills and dead air. That a concept as high as “Jason Statham versus a giant shark” results in not a single memorable one-liner is borderline actionable.

The special effects are occasionally striking, finally drowned out by excess. In aggregate this is a green screen monstrosity where nothing feels remotely real, every background and vista plainly painted in by digital artists, many of the effects unbecoming of such an expensive movie. Only the Meg is forgivable in its artificiality, a creation impossible without built-in implausibility.

It’s been nineteen years since Warner Bros. last dipped its toes into the shark movie waters. Renny Harlin’s “Deep Blue Sea” remains a pleasurably stupid horror pic, Tom Jane and LL Cool J and Samuel L. Jackson comprising a formidable trio of knowing archetypes. Nothing in “The Meg” comes close to the hilarity of LL Cool J theme song “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin),” much less the movie itself. The best Warner Bros. has to offer this time around? A few cheeky taglines (“Opening Wide” and “Pleased To Eat You”) and a droll end title card. The rest is absolute chum.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: August 10, 2018
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures, Gravity Pictures
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenwriters: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Robert Taylor, Cliff Curtis, Sophia Shuya Cai, Masi Oka
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for action/peril, bloody images and some language)