Rampage: President Down (2016)
“I fear Uwe Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk.”
Flash to 2015, and Boll and Fletcher are pushing a Kickstarter to raise funds in order to make a third (and final?) Rampage movie that will be guaranteed to be “the film we want to make, and you will want to see.” It seems that the requested $56,000 was to fund a climactic action sequence that would “leave the streets of Washington ruined, in a sequence more explosive than anything scene before in the Rampage trilogy.” It did not meet its target goal, and Boll’s response was titled, “F you all.” Those discerning folks of the Internet couldn’t stop Boll and his ridiculously misapplied love and devotion to the Rampage series, and so my dire warning has come true. The only good thing about Rampage: President Down is it might be the merciful end of this merciless franchise.
Bill Williamson (Fletcher) has come out of hiding and made big news. He assassinates the United States’ president, vice president, and Secretary of Defense, and inexplicably goes back into hiding in the woods. FBI agents Vincent Jones (Ryan McDonell), James Molokai (Steve Baran), and Murray (Scott Patey) are on the hunt to find out who is responsible, and they’re shocked to discover Bill is alive and well. Not only that he’s a new father, sneaking in visits with his child and baby mama (Crystal Lowe, a Boll acting reappearance stretching all the way back to 2000’s Sanctuary). Bill is making one final stand and has deadly plans for the government agents looking to bring him to justice.
As much as the subtitle was misleading from 2014’s Capital Punishment, with a picture of the U.S. Capitol building that was never featured, this one may prove to be even more of a misleading promise. President Down makes it sound like the president is under immediate threat, and he was, at the ten-minute mark. At that point Bill has taken out the president, the vice president, and even the secretary of defense, which means they must have had the absolute least qualifies team of Secret Service agents. It’s never explained how exactly he accomplishes this feat or whether suspicions creep toward the Speaker of the House (line of succession, folks). You would expect the entire nation to be on high alert, that a manhunt would be under full swing with every agency utilizing very even means to capture the culprit and bring them to justice. If you worried about the NSA spying on people and the defense department’s predilection for of drone warfare, just imagine after a wave of high-profile assassinations at the top of the executive branch. And yet the frantic world of political instability is manifested by two or three mediocre FBI agents who then, when successfully identifying THE U.S. PRESIDENT’S KILLER, go at it alone and miserably. This world lacks any sense of urgency and any sense of reality. The only reason a writer would bump off the U.S. president in the story is to deal with the consequences, and weirdly the consequences almost feel entirely unrelated. The FBI is tracking Bill but they could have been doing that already after he murdered over 100 people. Oh, I’m sorry, he was so remarkably clever that he faked his own death. There is no real chaos at least as it pertains to the movie’s plot. We hear offhand news broadcasts about the world spiraling out of control, possibly nuclear attacks on ISIS. It’s all pretty vague. However, our characters just go about their duty like it was a boring Tuesday. What’s the point of toppling the president if it isn’t significant to the story?
The movie suffers from a plot that struggles to fill out a feature-length running time, stretching this manhunt and then providing a climactic confrontation that doesn’t so much feel climactic as it does a relief from the prior crushing monotony. The first hour is built around the FBI agents getting tracking down Bill but there’s no reason this manhunt even needs to be as long as it is, and that’s because of the contrivance of the magic facial recognition software. If you’re going to through in that device, it might as well find him immediately rather than stretch out this storyline and have to reboot the system to reach the inevitable recognition. It’s delaying what everyone already anticipates, so why wait? The manhunt isn’t even that interesting because it’s watching three stock FBI characters stare at computer screens and occasionally engage in their own political debate. I think one of them might have been a mole who was sympathetic to Bill, but I can’t say for certain because the copy I watched had German subtitles for the onscreen texts. If this is the case, and it might not be, then revealing this mole at the half-hour mark is far too early and robs the film of greater mystery and suspense. This isn’t The Departed. There’s far too little that happens for the first hour. Finally, once the FBI agents raid Bill’s cabin, something does happen, and it’s slow-mo combat and explosions. Why did only two agents try and take down America’s most prolific murderer? Why does the FBI not send out a drone and just blow up the entire area? The ensuing action is pretty pointless. Boll also opens the movie with a flash-forward of this cabin assault, which confuses the timeline of events but also pads out his otherwise meager running time. There’s not enough plot here to justify a feature film and adding more Bill rants is not the answer.
The biggest problem with this series has been twofold: the empty void of its central protagonist and the lack of cohesive or, at times, even existent commentary. I reiterate what I said in my Capital Punishment review: “Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous.” Boll thinks he’s really saying deep things through his mouthpiece but his sputtering diatribes lack direction and articulation. It’s like making a trilogy of movies about the guy who yells at passing cars. Bill chastises the media and his online followers for losing sight: “You’re obsessed with violence. You focus on my body count rather than what I was telling you.” Gee, has there ever been a spree killer that enacted radical social change? I’m fairly certain Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t gunning down innocent people for trivial crimes as practicing yoga (that freaking happened in Capital Punishment! — not the MLK part).
Bill is an attention-seeking hypocrite with a healthy martyr complex and an oversized ego, but where is he really fails is that he’s boring. There’s not one interesting thing about this guy even after three full movies. Boll tries to give him depth through the hackneyed addition of Bill becoming a father with a… fan? It’s not really explained, and Bill does fall into what comedian Paul F. Tompkins dubbed “new dad” sotto voice. Does having a child in this world cause him to reflect? Does it change his perspective? Does it make him think of the hundreds of fathers and mothers that he took from this Earth? There are no insights provided at all except that he occasionally cries. The entire baby mama storyline is a pathetic attempt to humanize a remorseless killer, but it’s even more pathetic as a last-ditch attempt to inject some semblance of life into this empty vessel.
The other major issue that goes directly back to the start of this terrible film franchise is that the violence lacks any sort of relevant commentary. The movie isn’t bereft of social commentary but it’s a messy shotgun blast without a clear direction. Boll has a lot of anger directed at government overreach with modern surveillance and he also takes time to re-litigate the Iraq War and ethically murky War on Terror. There are points to be made here, relevant, searing, and eye-opening points, but Boll cannot focus his thoughts beyond ire and brimstone. I think he wants Bill to be a wake-up call but for what exactly? He points to vague things about income inequality and the rights of the people being taken away, but there’s a dangerous opaque quality to these charges, especially when the end result is that The People are stirred to take up arms and become spree killers. Is random murder of innocent human beings the solution to income inequality? At the conclusion of the movie, a news anchor informs us that George W. Bush, the CEOs of Microsoft, GE, and Facebook have been murdered by The People, along with the likes of singers Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Britney Spears (hey girl, you still got it). Regardless of what you think about their music, do these people deserve to be the first against the wall in a revolution? That seems pretty petty and a wasted grievance.
Boll’s misguided view of his lead character can best be summarized by Bill’s baby mama. She’s tear-stricken to discover news that her man has been declared dead by authorities, and she takes great umbrage at their choice of vocabulary: “He wasn’t a terrorist! He was just doing what needed to be done!” It’s fortunate I wasn’t drinking something at the time of this dialogue line because it would have been spat all over my computer screen. What an immensely asinine rationalization. Of course this dude is a terrorist! He literally terrorizes the nation, mowing down dozens and dozens of innocent people, rising in infamy with a record-breaking body count of wreckage. This guy is a definition of a terrorist, although I guess he’s not Middle Eastern of Muslim and so might not fit the profile for some. The revolution was only one yoga-practitioner away from being realized, we just never knew about it before (non-terrorist) St. Bill.
I’ll never understand why Boll hitched his wagon to such a depraved and empty central figure. With the first Rampage film I wondered if Boll was trying to understand the disaffected angry male voice out there, to try and put the audience in the shoes of a human being who would commit horrifying acts of butchery as a means of lashing out against a system that made him feel inconsequential. That wasn’t Rampage, a nihilistic and tiresome exercise in shock value that was mistaken as commentary. The 2014 sequel only reinforced the flaws of Bill and his rise-up manifesto, and once again Boll’s story dawdled with contrived false tension until an explosive climax that lingered on the violence, celebrating the carnage. If Bill wants to complain about the people’s love of violence he might want to direct his fury at his own director. With President Down, Bill is dead and his message has inspired the populace to take control of their lives via the conduit of indiscriminate murder and terrorism. I think the message may have gotten a tad lost along the way. The Rampage films were never good movies but they were even worse intellectual exercises, and I worry about people who charitably refer to them as the “good Boll movies.” They’re not, and as one of the world’s foremost experts on the catalogue of Boll, I can legitimately say he has made some almost-good movies (Attack on Wall Street and Tunnel Rats). I beg audiences not to give Boll an easy pass. If this is the end of the franchise, it goes out with a whimper and no lasting impression beyond angry, misplaced rhetoric and violent nihilism masquerading as social commentary. Follow the lead of the Kickstarter folks and steer clear of this mighty mess.
Nate’s Grade: D