All hail The Meh, because The Meg is a toothless blunder without any bite

If 'Jaws' made you afraid to go into the water, 'The Meg' will make you scared to pay full-price for a movie ticket.

The Meg

1.5 out of 5 stars.

PG-13. 113 minutes.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Shuya Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy and Robert Taylor.

Opens Friday, August 10.

click to enlarge Hi, it's your nightmare calling. Tonight, you'll be a little girl staring down the gullet of a Megalodon. - Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Hi, it's your nightmare calling. Tonight, you'll be a little girl staring down the gullet of a Megalodon.

When Jaws came out in 1975, I was but a bright-blue-eyed boy, all of 5 years old, still too young to sit through a feature film, much less Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster classic.

Three years later, however, just prior to my parents taking me to see Jaws 2 in the theater, my Dad snuck me into a showing of the original as preparation.

I have two distinct memories of this experience. One is my own, and the other is a story my father has told friends and strangers for more than 40 years.

My personal memory is of my very first jump scare, the first time I understood the power of a well-timed jolt, as poor old Ben Gardner’s head floated up at Richard Dreyfus.

My father’s recollection is what happened after the film ended, when he led me to a bathroom stall to do my business.

As men filed in and out of the theater restroom, a voice rose up, my voice, as I shouted, “Smile, you son of a bitch,” over and over, emulating heroic Sheriff Martin Brody as he targeted the air tank clenched in the big shark’s mouth, my prepubescent pee stick a sad substitute for a rifle as I nonetheless blasted the toilet bowl with gusto.

Even today, if I happen to catch Jaws on cable TV, I still can’t watch that lifeless head float out from the depths, but my love of shark movies has endured.

From the fantastic (The Shallows) to the interminable (47 Meters Down), the ridiculous (Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre) to the painful (the entire Open Water franchise, which exists solely to belittle humans for our hubris and stupidity), I’ve watched at least 50 or more shark movies in my life, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert.

That’s why I had such high hopes for The Meg.

You see, my top three — the holy triumvirate of superior shark-tainment — goes like this: Jaws, The Shallows and Deep Blue Sea, the second-best film Renny Harlin ever made, behind The Long Kiss Goodnight.

It’s been 19 years since audiences waded into the deep where genetically modified, super-smart sharks ransacked an underwater research facility, terrorized LL Cool J and his pet parrot and swallowed Samuel L. Jackson whole in what still ranks as one of the coolest, most unexpected moments ever in a modern genre film.

In short, we’re well overdue for a toothy successor to the cheesy shark-action-thriller throne.

On paper, The Meg, which is based on Steve Alten’s 1997 thriller, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, looked poised to deliver a late-summer blast of blood, chewed-up bodies and the opportunity to watch one of our most durable action heroes go mano a mano with the largest shark ever known to have existed.

That’s right. Jason mother-effing Statham doing underwater battle with a 70-plus-foot prehistoric Megalodon, an unstoppable killing machine capable of severing a whale in half with just one bite or dragging a small boat into the depths like a chew toy.

That would explain why I walked into the screening this week feeling electric.

I knew, I just knew, that I was about to experience something truly, ahem, Megcellent.

Sadly, that was not the case.

I am very sorry to report that this is not Statham’s finest hour. It pains me to say that this is not the Megnificent moviegoing experience I expected.

How damn difficult is it to make a good giant shark movie? Apparently, real damn difficult.

click to enlarge In 1975, it was one shark. In 1999, it was smart sharks, plural. In 2018, oh hell no, it's the biggest shark ever born looking for a human buffet. - Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
In 1975, it was one shark. In 1999, it was smart sharks, plural. In 2018, oh hell no, it's the biggest shark ever born looking for a human buffet.

The bulk of the characters are so paper-thin that you can literally see through them. The story is frustratingly familiar. There’s even a cute kid, who is actually the brightest light among the entire cast.

Pint-sized Shuya Sophia Cai plays the precocious daughter, Meiying, of the brilliant marine biologist Suyin (Bingbing Li), whose super-scientist father Khang runs the Mana One, a billion-dollar-plus underwater laboratory off the coast of China.

Cai gets all the best lines as Meiying, and she nails her delivery every time. “My mom is trying to save her friends on the bottom of the ocean,” she explains at one point. “My dad is with a pilates instructor in Taipei.”

Suyin has more than just a rescue mission on her hands. She gets to be the awkward love interest of Statham’s Jonas Taylor, an expert deep-sea rescue diver, who gets called out of retirement to save Suyin’s employee, his ex-wife Lori, when a research submersible is attacked by an unknown creature at a depth few marine biologists have ever explored.

Five years earlier, Jonas was blamed for two deaths following a dangerous deep-water rescue of the crew of a nuclear submarine. Jonas swore a monster attacked the sub. No one believed him. So, he stopped saving people and moved to Thailand and became a full-fledged alcoholic.

No shit. That’s what happens.

Mana One was financed by a rich tool named Morris (Rainn Wilson). Morris does a lot of really dumb stuff in The Meg, but you don’t hate him. You start to hate Wilson instead, because his character is so tone-deaf and grating. Seriously, did no one at a table read think to raise their hand and say, ‘You know, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it's not really funny?"

But wait, I haven’t even gotten to the rest of the crew. There’s Mac (Cliff Curtis, Fear the Walking Dead), an old friend of Jonas who doesn’t really do very much. And Jaxx (Ruby Rose), the over-confident tech-guru. Heller (Robert Taylor), is the facility medic, but all you need to know about him is he didn’t believe Jonas’s sea monster story.

Last, but definitely not least, is DJ (Page Kennedy), the communications chief, who constantly makes awful jokes about not being able to swim. DJ represents the worst kind of stereotype in Hollywood. He is an African-American character that is so obviously mirrored after Preacher, the chef played by LL Cool J, that his entire existence feels like a studio executive’s attempt to check a box on a list that he or she thinks will put more butts in seats.

I know what you’re thinking. Get off the soapbox, man, and tell us the answer to the $150-million-dollar-budget question. The shark, man. Tell us about the shark.

Surprisingly, that’s the one thing the creative folks didn’t entirely screw up.

The Megalodon is wicked fierce and frightening, whether he’s trying to chomp Meiying through a thick glass dome, devouring people like a sinkhole or attempting to beer-bong a shark cage with Suyin inside.

If you see any stars down below this review, it is only because the CGI in The Meg is pretty freaking good. Hell, even Statham looks understandably anxious in his numerous underwater encounters with the behemoth.

Which brings me to the rub.

How are you going to make a movie about a man fighting a giant shark and not go balls-out?

It’s not complicated, folks. There’s no need to be ashamed. If you buy a ticket to The Meg, you are hoping to see 90 minutes of Jason mother-effing Statham punching and kicking an underwater dinosaur.

That should be the whole damn movie.

In fact, the Meg should eat Suyin just to piss Statham off. That’s how you justify such an improbable courtship at the worst possible time. You make her a martyr. You give him a purpose. The Meg should be 12 rounds of bloody fist-a-fin-a-cuffs until Statham just underwater screams and swims directly into the mouth of the beast and punches his way through its 70-foot-body until he bursts out of its tail. The end.

But The Meg is long on dumb and not wise enough or willing enough to cash all-in on its ridiculous premise by overplaying such ridiculous scenarios to the point of high camp.

The Meg takes itself so seriously that at one point one actor says to another, with a completely straight face, “Man versus Megalodon isn’t a fight. It’s a slaughter.”

Dude, you’re like The Avengers. They might have a Meg, but you have a Statham. Lighten up. It’s going to be OK.

For reasons I can’t explain, the outrageous high cheese on the high seas that I hoped and expected to see is not the movie that I saw. And it made me a little sad.

So, what’s a shark-movie-aficionado to do when he finds himself face-to-face with such a ginormous late-summer disappointment?

I know what 8-year-old me would do.

I’d piss all over that son of a bitch, go rent Deep Blue Sea and call it a good day.

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.

About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
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