Disney’s newest action adventure film “Jungle Cruise,” starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt is big, bold, and…boring. Perhaps it’s just been too long since I’ve been to Disney World and ridden on the theme park ride upon which this entire film is based. Or perhaps the writers forgot to give us a better story.
The premise is that Frank (Johnson), a river cruise captain of a dilapidated boat who owes money to the slimy head honcho Nilo (Paul Giamatti), must find a way to pay his debt. A seasoned scam artist, he finds Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), both scientists in search of a healing petal form a secret tree located in the unknown and yet unmapped area in the jungle. Setting up a myriad number of scams, Lily is just too smart for this huckster and together they discover more than they set out.
While this sounds like it should be a lot of fun, and perhaps for children who require non-stop action and musical overload to drag you along a predestined emotional path, it is. However, as an adult who loved the likes of “Indiana Jones” and all the iterations of it, I was expecting more. So much more.
“Jungle Cruise” quickly ramps up after Lily and her brother present their hopes of finding a special species of tree to the scientific community of the 1800’s only to be rejected, primarily because the “powers that be” knew the hypothesis was written by a woman…Lily and not MacGregor. Immediately, the action starts and once it begins, it doesn’t stop. This constant tone of excitement desensitizes you to it making subsequent scenes dull and repetitive. And even when the scene doesn’t visually call for high intensity, the accompanying music pushes you into high gear. It’s just too much.
When you hear that “The Rock” is starring in a film, you automatically expect humor. He’s the king of braun and big laughs with incredible comedic timing and expressions, but we only get a glimmer of his signature style. He seems restrained, reined in from the personality we have grown to love and expect. We also have a written connection between Lily and Frank, but unfortunately, it’s only in the script. The two never exhibit any on-screen chemistry and only occasionally do we see either of them truly having fun with their roles.
This vibrant spectacle of a film does visually whisk you away as the characters travel along the river constantly battling dangerous animals and natives as they search for the petals from a tree. Finding themselves in one predicament after another, we learn of supernatural elements and curses from centuries ago that still effect the land and ultimately those who travel too far. Within this, Disney takes unexpected chances and delves into historical genocide, gender discrimination, and gender identification. While the former two topics are more obvious than the latter, it’s an unexpected element within a high-action kids’ movie.
Equally unexpected is the violence. That PG-13 rating is for several reason, violence being one of them as several people are killed, some in horrific ways such as being crushed like a bug beneath a stone structure, and gruesome images of supernatural events. Another unexpected turn of events is a couple of scenes spoken in a different language to which we, the viewer, are never privy—no subtitles, no translation, just confusion.
“Jungle Cruise” misses the mark, particularly as it jumps into the PG-13 rating and at 2 hours and 7 minutes, the 13 and up group needs more than non-stop action. Blunt and Johnson can’t find the right rhythm together and regardless of the intense music, the film sputters and stalls as it lulls you into either a quick nap or your mind wandering elsewhere. Yes, the special effects are Disney calibre, but the script is as lackluster as I remember the ride to be decades ago.
1 1/2 stars