Jungle Cruise

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Jungle Cruise is shallow, even for a production based on a Disney theme park attraction. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) is the gold standard. That picture justified a ride could be adapted into something enjoyable – once. Sorry, the sequels gave me a headache. Other movies inspired by one of their properties include Tower of Terror (1997), Mission to Mars (2000), The Country Bears (2002), The Haunted Mansion (2003), and Tomorrowland (2015). Throw this piece of corporate product onto that unexceptional list.

Jungle Cruise (the ride) was featured at Disneyland’s grand opening back in 1955. Over the next 65 years, it received only minor changes. Welcome to 2021 when it was completely overhauled to remove “imperialist and racist” content that included “negative depictions of native people.” Despite their mea culpa, Disney was still determined to adapt the attraction into a feature. There’s money to be made, right? The chronicle feels more like a course corrective apology than an organic story that needed to be told. It lacks an identity from which to distinguish itself as something vital or unique. This generic commodity has no spark.

The adventure involves Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) who goes on an expedition down the Amazon river to find the Tears of the Moon. Her research has found the life-saving petals from a mythical tree of life have healing properties. Her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall ) joins her and wisecracking tour-boat skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) leads the excursion. The plot begins well. Dwayne Johnson is always a likable presence. He’s a tour guide riffing through various puns that his audience finds annoying. His schtick is the funniest bit. I laughed at those jokes (as did the audience). The puns are one of the few callbacks to the Disneyland ride. Unfortunately it’s all downhill, or over the falls, from there.

Frank’s passengers on his riverboat include a strong, confident, tough-talking, no-nonsense individual and a feeble, fastidious namby-pamby. They would be poorly written stock characters no matter who played them. Yet the screenwriters’ idea of innovation is to swap gender roles. Get ready for a tiresome running gag about how a woman is wearing pants in 1916. Meanwhile, the man that packs a dozen suitcases of clothes for the trip is exploited as comic relief. It also allows Disney to promote him as their “first gay character” for the seventh time by my count. Zootopia, Beauty and the Beast, Avengers: Endgame, The Rise of Skywalker, Toy Story 4, and Onward were all hyped as being the “first” too. MacGregor gets a poignant scene halfway through where he confides in Frank his lack of interest in getting married. It’s the one moment we aren’t supposed to be laughing at his buffoonery. The word “gay” is never uttered. However, we’ve experienced his flamboyant histrionics for over an hour at this point. The scene merely emphasized what had been made abundantly clear previously with less sophistication.

Disney spent a boatload (pun intended) of money so points for really trying. Jungle Cruise reportedly cost at least $200 million to make and another $100 million to market. Normally I wouldn’t mention the budget in a review but expensive special effects are an intrinsic part of the film. The narrative employs an inordinate amount of CGI. You wouldn’t think computer graphics would be required in 1916, but somehow Disney found a way. Whether red flowers are glowing in the moonlight or rip-roaring rapids about to capsize our protagonist’s ship, there isn’t a single scene in this god-forsaken mess that isn’t blighted by a programmer’s code to enhance the spectacle. One of the recurring characters is a poorly rendered CGI leopard. I’m dumbfounded we are still getting animals this phony in 2021. He looks like a cartoon.

At least Jungle Cruise has the good sense to appropriate from the best. It’s as if a newbie watched The African Queen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone, and The Mummy all back to back in one sitting. They then regurgitated a superficial composite of what they had just seen without the character development, originality, or heart. Credit (or blame) goes to Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) who directs from a screenplay written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green.

The plot is a dizzying clutter of stuff. Did I mention there’s more than one villain? This includes Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez), a conquistador who once sought the tree’s power. He was cursed with immortality and is now inexplicably surrounded by CGI snakes that burst out of his zombie body. There’s also a German aristocrat named Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). He leads a competing expedition to harness the Tree of Life for himself. Joachim pops up in a massive submarine at one point. I told you the budget was huge. Almost topping him in the contest for most ridiculous accent is Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti), the harbormaster that Dr. Lily Houghton initially seeks to secure a boat for their voyage. If there’s anything to salvage from this sinking ship, it’s that actors Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson do muster up a modicum of charisma. They provide the wispy threads of some chemistry together. Nevertheless, they aren’t even in the same universe as a superior duo like Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. If The African Queen is the cinematic Queen Mary of seaworthy vessels, then Jungle Cruise is the garbage scow.

08-03-21

6 Responses to “Jungle Cruise”

  1. Wow! That was pretty vicious. I gave it 3 stars. I was mildly entertained. After reading your review, it made me question why I liked it. Haha. I remember walking out of the theater feeling like I had a good time. So I’m going with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt carried me through this one pretty well. But I can’t deny the points you make. It’s a really generic blockbuster that doesn’t exactly scream necessary. I also quite enjoyed Jack Whitehall.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked this movie! So what if it was Raiders of the Lost Ark goes down the Amazon! It was enjoyable and a fun way to escape today’s ponderous issues! Sometimes movie critics over analyze things and are unable to recognize a fun escapist movie. This is no art film but neither is it a garbage scow!

    Like

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