The recently announced Oscar category for the best achievement among popular movies comes at an awkward time for "The Meg." The movie is intended to attract a global audience of unfussy, low-demand moviegoers, so this sci-fi adventure fits the Motion Picture Academy's new "count-the-money" grouping. But the rules also say that to qualify, the show is supposed to be good. Talk about moving the goalpost!
Agreeably preposterous, thus is the sort of late summer time waster that isn't very good, knows it isn't very good and knows you know it isn't very good.
It's ever so loosely based on Steve Alten's 1997 book "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror." Its premise is that prehistoric marine predators lurk in the ocean's subbasement, and they are either very hungry or very angry. Call it "Jurassic Shark."
The fish in question is the Megalodon, a 70-foot behemoth with a mouth that could swallow a school bus and gigantic teeth even more impressive than star Jason Statham's. He plays Jonas Taylor, a specialist in deep-water rescue who races to the bottom of the ocean in special submersibles and brings trapped submarine crews back alive.
The role is a stretch for Statham because it gives him zero opportunities to squeal a car around crowded city streets like a deranged Formula 1 driver. In addition, Jonas gives us a Statham who is holding his cynical bad-boy charm tightly under control. Instead it gives him not one but two romantic connections on screen, which I would have thought goes beyond the requirements of his contract. But never fear, fans, beyond his surprising flirting, swimming and spear-shooting, The Stath remains true to his cocky, authority-defying roots.
His nemesis is Rainn Wilson as Jack Morris, a billionaire whose hobby research station 200 miles off the coast of China has lost a sub holding three employees in a trench never before explored. Wilson has a nice slow build of the fellow's true nature, beginning as a jolly, excessively huggy bro and slowly revealing his mustache-twirling inner jerk.
When his crew can't decide what to do about the monster fish that Jonas' rescue mission releases, most of us would say, "Kill it quick." But what kind of movie is that?
This Chinese-American coproduction is clearly intended for the broadest international audience possible, with a considerable amount of its dialogue in subtitled Cantonese. It is peppered with ethnically diverse cast members, which is great in theory, but here they never feel like interesting individuals in a melting pot. Once you see which identity box they were included to check off — English hero, wise Chinese mentor, overbearing American professional — you know everything about them. Few exist in three dimensions. Chinese actress Bingbing Li does tolerably well as a highly skilled submersible pilot. Her surprise to see the insanely buff Statham nearly naked, and her instant infatuation, is one of the film's highlights.
The story builds to a tremendous amount of splashing and vacationers at a seaside resort shrieking, directed with little natural linkage by Jon Turteltaub ("National Treasure"). He handles the proceedings competently, but for real shocks and thrills, he never gets the hook in.