This poorly sketched shark flick should have been bolder, cornier, and bloodier.
The biggest mystery that surrounds Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg — other than its ludicrous title of course, because seriously, why not just call it The Megalodon? — is its dullness. An hour into this frustratingly mild ‘man vs. nature’ slasher, I found myself wondering how a knowingly silly summer blockbuster, loaded with playful one-liners and a comically combative Jason Statham fighting a giant prehistoric shark, could be so spectacularly boring. The answer arrived in the film’s final act, a portion of which is set on a crowded beach in China’s Sanya Bay that instantly nods to both the fictional Jaws town of Amity, MA and Lake Victoria, home of Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D.
In this sequence, cinematographer Tom Stern’s camera offers generous aerial and underwater shots of the human buffet at the disposal of the massive Megalodon. Vacationers, blissfully unaware of their ill fate, cheerily enjoy their splashy fun while their legs and feet dangle in open water like snack-sized meat skewers. I mistakenly thought this would be when Piranha 3D’s all-out outrageousness of flying penises and halved torsos would finally make an appearance and sank into my seat with anticipation. But just like all the promising set-ups that came before it, the sequence fizzled out before it ever reached its full cheesiness.
Puzzlingly, this middling thriller wannabe never quite owns up to its gory potential. “I’m going to make this thing bleed,” Statham over-confidently declares at one point. If only. Sure, plenty of people get eaten and lose various limbs along the way, but Turteltaub’s bore-fest approaches neither the high-stake kicks nor the philosophical humor of Jaws, the peerless grandfather of all sea monster blockbusters.
Still, you might find some appeal in this half-baked summer nonsense if you go into it knowing that Blake Lively displays a lot more muscle while fixing a seagull’s broken wing in The Shallows than Statham does cutting open a 75-foot beast. Through an inexplicably stretched out first act (that made me check my watch at least thrice), we meet the team of scientists — the levelheaded Suyin (Li Bingbing), seasoned Zhang (Winston Chao), badass Jaxx (Ruby Rose), and the rich financier Morris (Rainn Wilson) — responsible for unleashing an ancient creature thought to be extinct back into the sea. The desperate crew brings Jonas Taylor (Statham) out of his retirement for a one-final-job type rescue deal, when their explorer squad, which includes Taylor’s ex-wife, gets stuck underwater during a near-fatal expedition. A heavy drinker who once faced The Meg himself and guiltily lived to tell the tale to his disbelievers after some of his partners fell to their deaths, Taylor dutifully accepts their suicide mission of an offer.
Things unfold pretty much as expected from here on out. Not that a deep-sea thriller needs much unpredictability, but a little of it — beyond a giant shark unexpectedly getting eaten by an even bigger one — would have gone a long way in a flat script jointly penned by Jon & Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris. Save for a genuinely amusing send off to Finding Nemo, a tiny dog named Pippin that miraculously survives (surely honoring the memory of Jaws’ fetch-loving pooch Pippet), and Suyin’s adorable young daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai, the reason you won’t walk out of the The Meg halfway through), there isn’t much here that dares to be memorable. Dialogue lines are delivered with cringe-worthy woodenness and a suggested romantic buildup between Taylor and Suyin doesn’t quite resolve to a satisfying note.
Between The Meg’s several implied endings — it goes on and on — what this crew needs isn’t necessarily a bigger boat, but bolder film-making to keep the whole thing afloat.