**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jon Turteltaub
STARS Jason Statham, Li Bingbing
- The Meg (Photo: Warner)
The latest shark flick hoping to take a sizable chunk out of box office revenues, The Meg is largely everything you would expect from a movie in which Jason Statham elects to deliver an upper cut to Mother Nature. It’s ridiculous to compare any movie of this ilk to the masterpiece that is Jaws, yet the movie is ballsy enough to openly invite such comparisons. Pippin the pooch, the Kintner kid, the tracking devices (now electronic gizmos instead of big ole barrels, because progress!) – they’re all here in barely disguised facsimiles. All that’s missing is Robert Shaw raking his fingernails across a blackboard – then again, the mere presence of Rainn Wilson will strike many as a nails-across-the-blackboard equivalent, so there’s that.
Wilson plays the gazillionaire funding an underwater science facility named Mana One and located off the coast of China. When one of the facility’s submersibles gets attacked by something enormous deep deep deep down in the Pacific Ocean, it’s decided that Jonas Taylor (Statham), a former rescue diver now drowning himself in bottles of beer, should be the man to save the stranded crew members – one of whom just happens to be his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee). Taylor left the biz after his encounter with a gigantic “something,” so he’s not surprised when he discovers that the perpetrator behind this submersible sabotage happens to be the same “something” – specifically, a 70-foot prehistoric shark whose scientific moniker is Carcharocles Megalodon. The rescue mission is (mostly) a success, but rather than remain near the ocean floor, the Meg decides to journey closer to the surface, where it proceeds to not only terrorize the Mana One employees but, eventually, unsuspecting beachgoers.
Adapted from Steve Alten’s 1997 book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, The Meg offers a few interesting developments in its narrative, and it’s nice to see Statham once again headlining the sort of picture that automatically gets handed to Dwayne Johnson these days. But even beyond its PG-13 bloodlessness, the movie is surprisingly subdued in its pacing, its characterizations, and its go-for-broke sensibilities. That’s largely due to director Jon Turteltaub, who has spent a career making popular pablum, bland hits that exhibit little style or wit (Phenomenon, National Treasure and its sequel, etc.). Say what you will about director Renny Harlin, but he at least kept his dopey shark film, Deep Blue Sea, moving at mach speed. The Meg isn’t any worse than Deep Blue Sea — they're both passable, undemanding entertainment — but it’s certainly more toothless. Luckily, the scrappy Statham is on hand to provide it with some bite.