‘The Meg’ spends too much time wading in safe waters
More of an update of Renny Harlin's schlocky "Deep Blue Sea" than either "Jaws" or "Jurassic Park," "The Meg" is a result of a two-decade journey from page to screen that should have been the perfect, brainless, end-of-summer action flick, but suffers from trying to find its balance between horror and humor, and winds up splitting the difference: ho-hum.
After being inspired by Peter Benchley's "Jaws," University of Delaware grad Steve Alten released his best-selling novel: "MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror" in 1997. The book, which focuses on a Navy deep-sea diver, Jonas Taylor (played by Jason Statham), who encounters a prehistoric predecessor to the Great White Shark, a megalodon, while working in the Mariana Trench. The novel hooked readers immediately and Hollywood bit hard, landing Alten a deal the very year it was released.
In the years that followed, Alten churned out six sequels (and a prequel) while the cinematic adaptation bounced around Hollywood lots, with names like Jan de Bont ("Speed") and Guillermo del Toro ("The Shape of Water") attached to direct. Still undeveloped in 2007, the film's rights with Disney finally expired and were handed back to Alten, who announced a deal with director Eli Roth ("Cabin Fever") in 2015. That also failed to materialize.
Lo and behold, a deal was struck with Disney journeyman director Jon Turteltaub (whose career spanned such films as "National Treasure," "Cool Runnings," and "While You Were Sleeping"), and Statham was attached to star.
The long path has taken its toll on the final project, which feels like it has filed down whatever edge it might have once had. It rocks back and forth between over-the-top snarky shark shenanigans and legitimate oceanic action thrills. "The Meg's" marketing suggests a more tongue-in-cheek approach that the film never fully delivers. Featuring an international cast meant to ensure good overseas box office numbers, "The Meg" also sticks in Rainn Wilson as an eccentric billionaire who seems to have wandered in from a different film altogether.
Statham does his Statham-y thing: growling, glaring, and constantly being reassured he's the only one who can take on the shark, as well as being the immediate object of affection for all female cast members.
Since 1975, there have been numerous attempts to replicate Spielberg's timeless summer blockbuster, "Jaws," but all have been left in its wake. This film does not need to go the same route as the way-too-proud-of-its-own-stupidity "Sharknado" franchise, as there are excellent examples of thematic variations over the last few years, including "Open Water," the criminally underappreciated "47 Meters Down" and, to a much lesser extent "The Shallows."
But when a film casts The Rock's less bulky, Cockney cousin Jason Statham as the lead, viewers might expect a certain level of absurdity that "The Meg" never fully delivers. It had free rein to splash into theaters and be comfortable as a showcase of flashy trash, but it proceeds through expeditions and research before delivering Statham-on-shark action.
"The Meg" has a few impressive set pieces, but spends far too much time wading in the safe waters of mediocrity.