Megan Fox has had an interesting go of it in Hollyweird. She exploded onto the scene as a full-blown sex symbol in Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” She was jettisoned from the franchise after she made comparisons between Bay and Adolf Hitler. She did some good, interesting work in the Karyn Kusama-directed and Diablo Cody-scripted horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body,” which wasn’t well-regarded upon its 2009 release, but has gained converts and a certain cult cache in recent years. Fox and Bay eventually reconciled when she was cast as April O’Neil in the two “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” pictures he produced. Fox claims to have been the victim of Hollywood misogyny … I believe her.
This brings us to “Rogue,” now available on VOD. Sporting a blacked-out Yankees cap and brandishing a machine gun, Fox plays Samantha O’Hara, the leader of a lively and diverse mercenary squadron (Philip Winchester of Cinemax’s “Strike Back,” Lee-Anne Liebenberg, Brandon Auret, Greg Kriek, Sisanda Henna, Kenneth Fok). Their mission is to retrieve the Governor’s daughter, Asilia (Jessica Sutton), from sex traffickers. They can’t in good conscience leave without also rescuing Chloe (Calli Taylor) and Tessa (Isabel Bassett). While they’re escaping criminal ringleader Zalaam (Adam Deacon), his right-hand hatchet man Masakh (Tamer Burjaq) and scads of other rebels give chase. The mercs’ extraction gets bungled and they’re munsoned out in the middle of rural South Africa where they’ll have to contend with the sex traffickers and a pissed-off lioness.
Fox is surprisingly adept in her action heroine role. I only rolled my eyes at her a handful of times. Honestly, she’s better than the material she’s been given. The real standout however is Winchester, who injects the proceedings with much-needed humor by repeatedly singing Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” Winchester played the stoic Stonebridge on the aforementioned “Strike Back.” Here he gets to harness his inner Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) by being a character who’s equal parts badass and smartass.
It’s a “Strike Back” reunion of sorts as “Rogue” is directed by M.J. Bassett (mother of Isabell, with whom she co-wrote the script), who helmed 15 episodes of the series. My interest in “Rogue” mostly stemmed from my “Strike Back” fandom and having dug a handful of Bassett’s other films “Deathwatch” (2002), “Wilderness” (2006) and the Robert E. Howard adaptation “Solomon Kane” (2009).
Bassett began her career in horror before evolving into action. The horrific elements of “Rogue” don’t work nearly as well as the action ones do. There’s a chase/shootout sequence early on that’s truly impressive in spite of being a little too reliant upon computer-generated imagery for my liking. Bassett opted to gild the lily by also making this a creature feature. Her intentions are noble as she’s trying to shine a condemning light on South African poaching, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The lioness is a sub-PlayStation 2 CGI gobbledygook of weightless pixels. It’s hard to feel for or be horrified by her when she’s so entirely unconvincing. A massive uncanny valley also exists when the lioness is shown side-by-side with actual lion cubs, though they’re certainly a welcome and adorable presence.
If you want to watch a movie about a merc busting up a sex trafficking ring check out “You Were Never Really Here.” If you want to watch a “when lions attack” flick opt for “Roar” (totally fucking bugnuts!) or “The Ghost and the Darkness.” “Rogue” has its charms, but they’re fleeting at best. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.