The Meg ***
Dir: Jon Turteltaub. With: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson. 113 mins. Cert: 12A
Last week, the Academy invited its Twitter followers to boil down the plot of their favourite film to five words. Here’s a plot that requires no more than five: Jason Statham versus prehistoric megashark. That formula might merely have generated a boneheaded Jaws reboat [sic], or a flimsy disappointment along the lines of 2006’s Snakes on a Plane, where movie wound up secondary to pitch. The face-off we actually get comes in on or around an acceptable par with 1999’s enjoyably lively Deep Blue Sea, where LL Cool J had his parrot chomped by an angry Frankenshark: its wittily handled pulp will do you just fine on a Friday or Saturday night, given the right, modified expectations.
Once more, nonsense science (“Are you saying we’ve opened up a superhighway for giant sharks?”) lashes together a string of monster-movie clichés, some more knowingly deployed than others. Statham’s rogue diver Jonas Turner has sunk into boozing to drown memories of a professional low; the research crew he’s called to rescue inevitably includes his ex-wife. One new ingredient is Chinese investment capital, which provides fancy production design – light-up shark cages! – and a prominent role for local luminary Bingbing Li, but also limits what these seadogs can say and do. Given the threat level, it seems a pity to deprive the star of his Olympian cursing gifts: two discreetly muffled, ratings-conscious S-bombs are as close as Jase gets to going full Stath.
He integrates well, however, with what proves an characterful crew to splash around with (moneyman Rainn Wilson, tech whizz Ruby Rose, Bingbing’s adorable daughter Shuya Cai), and it’s a far better directed shark movie than any of those snickering SyFy channel bombs featuring Debbie Gibson. 90s throwback Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings) stages his setpieces with enough B-movie nous to elicit regular jumps, deftly pulls off a midfilm twist, and keeps everything moving, often in equally surprising directions: if the shark-versus-Statham bout doesn’t tickle you, the shark-versus-Pekinese sidebar might. Not quite killer, but it’s rare to see a 21st century blockbuster having this much fun – right through to its sign-off – with its own premise.
The Meg opens in cinemas nationwide today.