IT’S FRIDAY FILM: Meet mega Jaws… chased by tough guy Jason Statham, says BRIAN VINER 

The Meg (12A)

Verdict: Amusingly preposterous

A mighty survivor against all the odds, thrashing around aggressively at the bottom of the ocean, master of its realm like some ancient, angry king, but occasionally, menacingly, thundering to the surface, vast torso inducing gasps of shock and awe despite its great age …

Yes, tough guy Jason Statham is back in an action movie, fighting a giant, two-million-year-old shark.

Almost 16 years have passed since Statham kicked up a storm in The Transporter, the first of his over-the-top action roles. He is in his 50s now, so uncompromisingly bald and gruff that he could easily get a comfortable job in EastEnders as the lost Mitchell brother.

 

Li Bingbing and Jason Statham in film ‘The Meg’ – just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

Instead, here he is splashing about energetically in The Meg, a film of such heroic preposterousness that I can’t quite decide whether to urge you to see it, or urge you not to. Either way, you can’t lose.

Meg is short for megalodon, a species of colossal shark long thought to be extinct for the thoroughly sound reason that it is, having died out towards the end of the Pliocene age.

But in Hollywood, extinction is a concept itself as dead as a dodo. Where would summer blockbusters be without the snarling of primordial beasts, terrorising the modern world? The Meg is half Jurassic Park, half Jaws, and wholly barmy.

It begins with Statham’s character, Jonas Taylor, diver extraordinaire, rescuing the crew of a stricken submarine.

‘Something’s crushing the hull,’ someone shouts, possibly Jonas, though it’s hard to tell in the melee. The implication is clear — to us if not yet to them. There’s a megalodon the size of an articulated lorry at large.

Meanwhile, a caption says Philippine Trench, which is not the name of the film’s heroine but an underwater location, and the first hint that a chunk of The Meg’s production money came from the Far East.

Further evidence arrives in the beauteous form of the female love interest, Suyin Zhang, played by Li Bingbing.

 

The Meg is half Jurassic Park, half Jaws, and wholly barmy, according to Brian Viner

Suyin is not just a pretty face, she is also an intrepid diver herself and enviably well-connected.

Her father is Dr Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), the brilliant scientist who runs an oceanic research station 200 miles off the Chinese coast, funded by a livewire U.S. billionaire called Jack Morris.

He is played by Rainn Wilson, who does not live up to his name and Rainn anything in. Some of the acting in this film is as subtle as a shark attack, although compared with the dialogue, it deserves prizes for understatement.

At the screening I attended, small ripples of mirth developed into great frothy waves, as it began to dawn on us that every character had at least one contender for clunkiest line.

Whether director Jon Turteltaub intended his audience to laugh their socks off, I’m not sure.

There is some suggestion of deliberate tongue-in-cheekery, not least the film’s amusing valedictory caption, but on the whole I think we’re meant to take it seriously, which is the biggest hoot of all.

 

Jason Statham in the Warner Bros. new movie : The Meg (2018): After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor (Statham) must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible

As for the story, it resumes five years after Jonas’s initial rescue, which was only partially successful and damaged rather than enhanced his reputation as the go-to man in an underwater crisis, because his claims about a massive shark were considered, well, fishy. Consequently, and inevitably, he is now a beach bum in Thailand.

In films like this, discredited heroes always end up as beach bums. But out at the research station, they need Jonas back in his wetsuit.

The crew of an exploration vessel has discovered that what was previously thought to be the ocean floor wasn’t.

There’s a whole new maritime world underneath it, including a family of megalodons, one of which has bashed up the exploration vessel, rendering it immovable.

Only one fellow has the lung-power, the know-how and the designer stubble to save it, and he’s quaffing Thai beer and refusing to ride to the rescue, until someone says: ‘Your ex-wife and her crew are trapped …’

Yes, the vessel is skippered by Jonas’s ex, the comely Celeste (Jessica McNamee), who, like all the other adult females who work at the research station, is uncommonly gorgeous.

The recruitment message is clear: if you don’t look like a beauty queen, you clearly haven’t got the requisite oceanography skills.

So Jonas does squeeze into his wetsuit, which is a sight in itself, like seeing an extra-thick beef sausage in a chipolata skin.

Then, once he’s bonded with Suyin’s cute little daughter by way of showing us that he would be at least as terrific a dad as he is a shark-hunter, the stage is set for him to save the world, or at least that smallish proportion of it holidaying in the Chinese resort of Sanya Bay.

That’s where the megalodon is headed, and where Turteltaub shamelessly re-stages the scene in Jaws in which the little boy’s distraught mother runs towards the water while everyone else is running away.

The open references to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece act as an unwitting reminder that the evolution of the shark movie has gone backwards in 43 years, in every way but one.

The special-effects in The Meg are splendid, making it just about more watchable than not.

And then, of course, there’s Statham, who keeps an admirably straight face from start to finish, still reportedly tackles his own stunts, and never lets on whether the apparatus he needs to plunge into the watery depths is to let the oxygen in, or the testosterone out.

 

Unfriended: Dark Web (15)

Verdict: Ingenious horror

A notional sequel to the 2014 horror film Unfriended, but really a standalone project marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Stephen Susco, Unfriended: Dark Web might make you want to go home and throw your laptop away. Or give thanks that you don’t have one.

At any rate, as the title implies, the film explores that sinister side of the internet where predators and perverts flourish.

Like the original film, this one unfolds almost entirely on a computer screen, which at first feels like a teasing novelty, but soon gets more than a little tiresome.

If you’re not fluent in System Preferences and don’t know your way round Facebook and Skype, then this is definitely not for you.

At the centre of the story is an American man in his 20s, Matias (Colin Woodell), who has claimed a stranger’s Apple Mac from lost property at an internet cafe. More fool him.

The laptop, it soon emerges, has some deeply weird stuff on it, leading Matias, the pals in his group Skype sessions and his deaf girlfriend headlong into a grotesque world of extreme sexual deviancy, not to mention abduction and murder.

The film is nicely acted and ingeniously constructed, but actually its very ingenuity becomes a problem, because we are forced to believe in a set of cyber-skills that become increasingly, almost ludicrously, implausible.

Still, as a scary modern fable, a kind of warped fairy tale, it is quite effective. A fairy tale, when you think about it, that’s all about someone unwisely taking a byte of a poisoned Apple.

 

The Darkest Minds (12A)

Verdict: Derivative sci-fi fare

The Darkest Minds is based on a young-adult novel and plays out like a pallid version of The Hunger Games or Divergent films. It even stars The Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg.

She plays Ruby, a teenager infected by a disease that is killing all American children, except those it doesn’t kill, who are rounded up by the state and forced to live in internment camps.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, whose first live-action picture this is (she previously brought us Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3), lightens all the sci-fi dystopia with an old-fashioned summer-camp love story, but as a result the film feels muddled, neither entirely one thing nor entirely the other.

I think its young target audience will feel a little short-changed.

 

The Darkest Minds is based on a young-adult novel and plays out like a pallid version of The Hunger Games or Divergent films, says Brian Viner

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