RATING |

The Meg is short for Megalodon, a prehistoric shark that ran 60 feet in length, an apex predator that could have eaten orcas and flossed with great white sharks.

No one's seen one for, oh, 2.6 million years, and all we have is some leftover Megalodon parts, mostly teeth.

But who knows what lurks at the extreme depths probed in  The Meg — the uncharted reaches where scientists have recently found new species, like the yeti crab, living on the ocean floor next to thermal vents that sustain their own ecosystems.

Fact-plagued marine biologists will complain that if Megalodons were still swimming, we'd have more Meg signs — like more coprolite, which is petrified shark dung. On the other hand, you'd have to be awfully yeti crabby to begrudge moviegoers the fun of a speculative action movie that casts the Meg as the title character in its own summertime shark thriller, pitted against grimacing Expendable Jason Statham.

Statham is Jonas, a deep-sea rescue specialist who is semiretired and semisober, due to his role in a submarine rescue that went horribly wrong when, at the crucial moment, some massive creature bumped into the side vessel.

Or so Jonas claimed. Others insisted he went deep-sea crazy, due to nitrogen bubbles in his blood, or something. Still, when another deep-diving crew gets stranded in the deepest reaches of the sea, Jonas is summoned, because he's the only man who's ever attempted a rescue at such depths, and because his ex-wife is among the potential victims.

All communication with the troubled vessel has been lost, but their last words were ominous. There was SOMETHING DOWN THERE. SOMETHING BIG.

You could write the rest of the screenplay from here, and sketch the characters — the attractive scientist (Bingbing Li) who teams with Jonas, the know-it-all billionaire (Rainn Wilson) who funds the enterprise, the grudge-holding antagonist (Robert Taylor) who's there to second-guess Jonas' every move, the antisocial computer hacker (Ruby Rose) with a sleeve of  scary tattoos, etc.

The Meg also borrows wantonly from Jaws, taking some of the Spielberg classic's most famous elements, and amplifying them. There are a few nods to James Cameron's The Abyss and Renny Harlin's underrated Deep Blue Sea, although it lacks the latter's cheeky use of supporting-character tropes (as a result, Page Kennedy is stuck in a sidekick role in need of updating).

The movie is a cheerful pastiche, unpretentious and efficient, and the giant shark, when it finally shows up, is a pretty good special effect, although I'm not sure I'd value it at $150 million (the amount of Chinese money it took to make the movie).

The filmmakers never get us to feel the creature's extraordinary mass, although its potential danger is made clear enough, so we all get a good laugh when a scientist eager to study the living relic suggests exploring "nonlethal options."

The audience howls, and the look in Jonas' contemptuous face says it all — what a bunch of coprolite.

MOVIES

The Meg

  • Directed by Jon Turteltaub. With Jason Statham, Bingbig Li, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy and Robert Taylor. Distributed by Warner Bros.
  • Running time: 1 hour, 47 mins.
  • Parents guide: PG-13
  • Playing at: Area theaters