Jon Turteltaub wrote and directed his first feature film in 1989 at the age of 25. The movie was called Think Big, and it starred musclebound twins David and Peter Paul (aka the Barbarian Brothers) as toxic waste-toting truck drivers sheltering a runaway teenage genius. Turteltaub followed it a few years later with 3 Ninjas, a family-oriented film about three white kids who are Japanese ninjas, and over the next quarter century, he produced a steady output of exactly that kind of lowbrow, brain cell-killing crud.
As B-movies became the new Hollywood blockbusters, however, Turteltaub suddenly found himself working with A-list actors and bigger budgets. Three Nicolas Cage collaborations later, we get Turteltaub’s latest forgettable trifle: The Meg, a Crackle-worthy monster shark movie starring the always monotone Jason Statham. Essentially a PG-13 version of Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D with fewer jokes and even less of a point, The Meg is a faceless, lifeless, workmanlike, unimaginative, lowest common denominator-courting, movie-like substance. In other words, it’s infused with that Turteltaub magic.
Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a scowling and growling deep-sea rescue diver who escapes the titular Megalodon (i.e., a giant, ancient shark) in the film’s opening scene. Even though he saves 11 men from an exploding nuclear submarine, no one on the surface believes his story about a prehistoric shark, so a disgraced Jonas goes into hiding at a coastal village in Thailand, as you do. Jonas gets pulled out of his drunken exile when a group of deep-sea explorers get trapped on the ocean floor following an encounter with the same mammoth underwater beast.
From there, Turteltaub and his screenwriters Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber (adapting the novel Meg by Steve Alten) roll out a grim parade of inane archetypes, robotically contrived monster movie story-beats and poorly executed action set pieces. Naturally, one of the scientists trapped in the crashed submersible is Jonas’ ex-wife Celeste, and naturally, she’s working out of an underwater station staffed with the medical officer who discredited Jonas in the first place. How thematically convenient!
The cast is rounded out by Rainn Wilson as the wacky billionaire funding the underwater lab, Cliff Curtis as a guy named Mac who barks plot information, Page Kennedy as a sassy black man who can’t swim (i.e., the Turteltaub comedy gold standard) and Ruby Rose, scowling and growling like a female Statham as computer expert Jaxx Herd. For all the winking, semi-satiric comedy scattered amongst the shark-related carnage in The Meg, the cast appears to be having a miserable, paycheck-cashing time.
Chinese actress Li Bingbing gets the most thankless role of this sad ensemble as Suyin, a fiercely independent scientist whose fierce independence consistently puts her in life-threatening situations that require the life-saving assistance of Jonas. Worse, she’s proffered as a love interest for Jonas by her own nauseatingly precocious 8-year-old daughter, even though both actors have more chemistry with the CGI shark. The Meg doesn’t even threaten the legacy of Lake Placid, much less Jaws.