The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Rampage was for the “DVD Insanity” column of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
Each week some of the strangest films ever thought up are released straight-to-DVD and we’re committed to finding the craziest ones out there. They aren’t all going to be winners, but with DVD Insanity, we will strive to bring some attention to the most boundary-pushing, unusual, and just plain wacky films available.
When we started up the DVD Insanity column, we knew that we would eventually have to cover a Uwe Boll film. After all, the man has turned his name into a brand that conjures images of artless DTV schlock made to turn a quick buck. But the truth is, I’ve never seen a Uwe Boll film. Everything I know about the man’s output stems from other people’s opinions, which are nearly universal in their disdain for his entire filmography. I didn’t want to waste my time redundantly adding to the chorus of boos that meet his films, so I did my research and found one that seemed to cut against the grain of his reputation.
Rampage boasts solid, if unspectacular, credentials. On IMDb, it currently sits at a 6.4 out of ten rating. On Netflix, it has a surprisingly high 3.3 out of five rating. The cast is peppered with recognizable grade-B actors (Matt Frewer, Michael Paré) and some personal favorite Canadian character actors (Brendan Fletcher, Katharine Isabelle). Armed with this information, I crossed my fingers and made my first dive into the infamous world of Uwe Boll. I wish I hadn’t.
Rampage starts out interestingly enough. Bill (Fletcher) is an everyman in his early 20s. Unable to find a job after graduating from college, he has moved back in with his parents (Frewer, Lynda Boyd). He has a job as a mechanic at a local garage, works out obsessively, and hangs out with his friend, Evan (Shaun Sipos). Evan is a sensitive liberal type who posts sanctimonious videos on the Internet in which he rambles on about overpopulation, deforestation, and economic inequality. Bill verbally spars with him about the validity of his beliefs, accusing him of being nothing but a lot of hot air. Having met plenty of people who behave just like Evan, I enjoyed seeing Bill take him down a peg and let down my guard, that’s when Boll strikes hard and fast with an extended “action” set-piece.
Unfortunately, Boll’s version of “action” is to have Bill create a full body armor suit, pick up automatic weapons, and walk through his suburban town killing anyone he sees in cold blood. Boll explains Bill’s reasons for doing this by constantly cutting back and forth between Bill on his rampage and a video he has made in response to Evan’s rambling arguments. It all basically boils down to the fact that there are too many people in the world and someone to needs to cleanse it. In other words, Boll didn’t have a good reason for sending Bill into the world and killing dozens of random people. He just thought it would turn a quick profit.
Admittedly, Bill is eventually revealed to have an ulterior motive for his killing spree, but even that reason is sketchy and everything he does leading up to this reveal is contradicted by his actions in the film’s final scene.
Surprisingly, the film boasts some very good production values: The cinematography is crisp and professional; the acting ranges from good enough to impressive (especially by Fletcher); the special effects are all seamless (including an explosion that would warm the heart of Michael Bay). All of this surprised me because I was under the impression that a Uwe Boll film was the height of incompetent mediocrity. The technical skills on display in Rampage definitely argue against that idea.
But Boll’s script and ADD-addled editing style point to a director who has no idea what he wants his film to be. Aside from the scenes between Bill and Evan, the dialogue is inane, with a pointless low-stakes drama added in about Bill’s parents wanting him to move out of the house. Even worse is Boll’s attempt to throw in bits of obvious satire (Bill wandering in to a bingo parlor where the zombie-like patrons are too focused on the game to notice the man clad in armor, carrying guns) that smack of a shallow attempt to add substance to what is essentially a first-person-shooter video game masquerading as a movie.
The film doesn’t even work as an exercise in suspense. Boll shoots himself in the foot by showing snippets of the killing spree to come while Bill works out, listening to clichéd right-wing talk radio. Any mystery that might have remained about how Bill’s story is going to be played out is ruined by this approach.
Of course, the film that follows these opening scenes reveals that there is no real mystery. It’s just an attempt by Boll to court controversy with one potentially upsetting scene after another of Bill killing people at random. But Boll even fails at upsetting the audience. In a truly upsetting film like The Devil’s Rejects — a movie I do not like at all — the audience is forced to get to know the victims briefly before the sadistic killers torture and murder them. That is an upsetting film because it makes the audience complicit in the violence that they’re watching. Aside from one scene where Bill briefly talks to the customers and employees at a beauty salon before slaughtering them, there is never an attempt by Boll to truly upset the audience. He is more interested in reveling in the violence. This would be an offensive and upsetting idea, if Boll wasn’t so incompetent when portraying the violence, focusing more on seeing things from Bill’s distant perspective.
By the end of the film, I realized that not only was I not interested or outraged at what I had just watched, I was bored. In the DTV world, that’s the most unforgivable sin of all.
Read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.