JUNGLE CRUISE ˝
PG-13, 127 mins.
2021, PG-13, 127 mins.
Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff / Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton / Jack Whitehall as McGregor Houghton / Edgar Ramírez as Aguirre / Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim / Paul Giamatti as NiloDirected by Jaume Collet-Serra / Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
JUNGLE CRUISE is
the ultimate distillation of Disney's recent aggressive minded creative
If it worked
before, why not repackage it again for a new audience?
Of course, I'm referring not only to the House of Mouse's insistence on remaking their large catalogue of animated classics into live action form, but also their churning out of popular Disneyland theme park rides/attractions into silver screen adventures.
back in 2003 Disney achieved an audacious coup de grace with the first
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, which was, yes, based on one of their theme park
rides. Not only did that film
unpredictably become both a critical and audience darling, but it also
launched a billion dollar franchise that has lasted mostly until the
present day. From this
perspective, why not try to recapture the lightning in a bottle success of
PIRATES by adapting another ride into a hopeful new cinematic IP?
This brings me to JUNGLE CRUISE, based on the 65-year-old
Disneyland ride, but the film itself doesn't bare any startling
resemblance to it. It's a
retooled PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN in almost plagiaristic ways (more on
than in a bit) on top of being a very strange hybrid of THE AFRICAN QUEEN
meets THE MUMMY meets ROMANCING THE STONE.
Some of it is unpretentious fun, and it coasts by on the sizeable
charisma of stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson, but as far as cynical
minded movies as mass marketed products go, this one simply didn't have
much lingering staying power with me.
Directed with a
colorful eye by Jaume Collet-Serra (an odd choice, considering his past
making a handful of Liam Neeson action thrillers), JUNGLE CRUISE opens in
the early 19th Century in WWI-era South America and introduces us to
Johnson's hulking river boat behemoth, Captain Frank Wolff, who makes a
living taking wealthy Europeans on voyages into the dangers of the jungle
(yeah, it's all smoke and mirrors trickery by Frank, made more laughable
by his penchant for horrendous puns during the excursions). Unfortunately, Frank is borderline penniless and his ship is
all but broken down, leading to him getting increasingly desperate to nab
big game clients. After a
comedy of errors identity mix-up, Frank decides to take on the assignment
posed by scientist Lily Houghton (Blunt) and her uppity and scaredy-cat
brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall): She wants Frank to take them all up
river to seek out a fabled mystical tree that contains buds so powerful
that - once taken off the branch and used - could save countless lives
with their astounding medical properties.
Predictably, they face a multitude of obstacles beyond the dangers
of the natural elements, like an evil German prince, Joachim (an oddly
cast Jesse Plemons) who wants the magic tree for his country to win the
As mentioned, the
nagging been there/done that sensations that viewers will
experience while watching JUNGLE CRUISE is pretty intentional.
A cursory comparison of it to PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN reveals a
host of astoundingly similar narrative traits and character beats: We have
the eccentric captain that's really a charlatan in over his head, but
remains a loveable rascal; we a dangerous trek into unknown waters looking
for a supernatural MacGuffin that power broker players on both sides of
good and evil yearn to acquire; we have ancient cursed beings, once in
human form, but now forced to walk the earth in horrendously decayed form;
and we have a reveal about one of the characters tied very personally into
the quest in question...and so on and so on.
JUNGLE CRUISE doesn't have much in common with its Disneyland ride
outside of its most basic connections of Wolff's cracking wise while on
his cruises that harkens back to the hosts of the attraction doing the
very same. Beyond that, this is PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN with a new
skin, and not much more. Of
course, there are a handful of scenes that evoke many of the
aforementioned classic movies (there's quite a bit of ROMANCING THE STONE
and THE AFRICAN QUEEN thrown into this film's mixing bowl...just look at
The Rock's wardrobe), but much of it leaves a lot to be desired.
JUNGLE CRUISE has
nearly a half of dozen writers (yikes) credited, but the unevenness of the
script comes to the forefront in the early sections, which has to wade
through treacherous waters (pun intended) of unloading a lot of
expositional particulars in the opening ten minutes (especially regarding
centuries old conquistadors and how their colonizing ways lead to their
cursed monstrous forms that would later plague the heroes) as well as
introducing us the trio of protagonists. The narrative does manage
to find some clever ways of modernizing the material, making Blunt's Lily
a determined go-getter that bucks gender norms in a heavily male dominated
society of the early 1900s. There's
also a sly scene later that tries to transcend some of the more
offensively dated elements of the ride in general, like an encounter that
Frank, Lily, and McGregor have with a cannibalistic tribe that's
definitely not cannibalistic.
Hell, there's even noble minded and commendable attempts here to
introduce some LGBTQ themes into the proceedings (at least as far as
Disney family entertainment goes) with McGregor, who in one would-be
tender fireside moment reveals to Frank that he is indeed gay.
There's nothing wrong with this character's inclusion and brave
admission here, but Frank's casual acceptance of McGregor's homosexuality
- in terms of historical context - never once feels credible, especially
after he spent a majority of the picture making fun of Lily's attempts to
live and thrive in her male occupied profession by...wearing pants.
I mean, he's shocked by Lily....wearing pants.
Only men do that, in his mind, out in the open.
How on earth would this knuckle headed lug ever accept Frank as
simplistically as he does here is beyond me.
Aside from some
questionable handling of these characters, I certainly did like what
Johnson, Blunt, and Whitehall brought to the table here, and the former
two manage to have some decent, easy going and sustainable chemistry
throughout that helps make some of the film's more egregious
miscalculations a tad more forgivable. Blunt, as demonstrated time and time again, shows that she's
unafraid of genre challenge, and she can morph in and out here between
swashbuckling action hero to guippy light comedian with graceful notes
(very few actresses can credibly segue between say, EDGE
OF TOMORROW and MARRY
POPPINS RETURNS). And
Johnson may still not have considerable range as a screen actor (he's
playing the umpteenth variation of his often used character type - a
macho, beefy, somewhat clumsy, but infectiously amiable and warm hearted
brute with pure intentions), but he gets the job done.
Complimenting the tangible star power here is Collet-Serra's
visuals, and he makes use of the massive budget and tickle trunk of vast
Disney-led resources at his disposable to make a grand and expensive
looking picture that's reasonably eye catching, if not a bit inconsistent
at times. Some of the CGI
work to recreate cityscapes of the period are pretty jaw dropping, as are
some of the sun drenched jungle vistas (the blurring between the real and
unreal here is exceptionally well maintained), but when the film gets
bogged down into, for example, many cute, but artificial shots of Frank's
pet jaguar (LIFE OF PI this ain't) on
top of some of dubious shots of the doomed conquistadors in their undead
form then it becomes a bit unintentionally distracting to watch.
And Captain Rock ain't no Captain Jack Sparrow.