In Theaters July 30
Scientist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) are searching for the legendary “Tears of The Moon” — petals of an ancient tree that will heal any ailment and bestow everlasting life.
Lily has acquired the last piece of the puzzle. Heading to the Amazon, Lily hires riverboat captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) who is more concerned about squeezing every last cent from customers as opposed to river navigating. Together they find much more than ancient legends.
“Jungle Cruise” is allegedly based upon the Disneyland ride of the same name. Although the theme park ride is nothing more than a water ride through the Amazon’s flora and fauna, Disney has thankfully developed an entertaining action adventure around this simple idea.
The year is 1916. A war is raging with many casualties. Lily struggles to be taken seriously by London’s scientific society, leaving her no choice but to use a less acceptable means to secure an ancient artifact — theft.
This film is a cross between “Indiana Jones” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises. It melds action and enjoyable stunt combinations with top-shelf digital effects, all wrapped in the cocoon of a chase for the prize.
Simple themes of good versus evil, change through kindness and the power of love help imbue this film with depth and emotion. Lily seeks a mythical item to help the world and heal those returning from war. Frank has given up on the world. Together they help each other, but not in the way either expected.
Emily Blunt’s Lily is smart, strong, charming, playful and determined to help others. Frank has lost his inner fire for life and now simply traverses the Amazon, whiling away his days in obscurity, using smoke and mirrors to bilk customers. He also uses smoke and mirrors to hide his dissatisfaction with his life.
This film is pure fun. Focusing on action, adventure, laughs and romance rather than a preachy message, audiences will instantly join the ride with Lily and Frank as they butt heads in a most enjoyable way. This film doesn’t take itself too seriously, offering an opportunity to use fantasy to fuel the action with a crazy leopard and some ancient Conquistadors.
“Jungle Cruise” is a perfect family-friendly summer feature film that has something for everybody. This is another film that will play much better in theaters than at home.
“Jungle Cruise” is junk, as plastic as those animatronic animals and plants that are part of theme park rides.
A hodgepodge of other – and better – movies, this Disney action-adventure really wants to be “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Throw in nods to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” another movie based on a Disney ride, “Lost City of Z” and “The Mummy,” and the experience is derivative, not special.
The film’s saving grace is its two leads, Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock,” as Frank Wolff, a con artist riverboat captain with a penchant for puns and a hardened heart, and Emily Blunt as headstrong botanist Dr. Lily Houghton, whose altruistic nature leads her on a search through the Amazon to find “Tears of the Moon,” a plant cure-all so that she can heal the sick.
The story is part of a larger mythology that involves Spanish conquistadors and a whole lot of snakes, with cartoonish melodramatic villains eager to wreak havoc as they lust for world domination.
Likeable and charming on their own, Johnson and Blunt have an easy chemistry paired together, although it appears more platonic than romantic. As ordained in this opposites-attract framework, they tussle and the snappy banter is comical – he calls her “Pants” and she calls him “Skippy.”
Their feisty-but-familiar relationship is reminiscent of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in “Romancing the Stone” (1984 -- really fun, check it out) and the Oscar-winning classic “The African Queen” featuring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn (1951 – magical).
The plucky Lily has brought along her dandy brother, MacGregor, well-played by Jack Whitehall. In a stunning development, although played for laughs, this gay character comes out to the cynical Frank.
In a bit of odd casting, Jesse Plemons plays the obnoxious and lethal Prince Joachim (refer back to the Nazis in “Raiders.” Connected to Kaiser Wilhelm, for it is set at the start of World War I, the evil German progeny is maniacal and hell-bent on power.
Another head-scratcher is barely-in-it Paul Giamatti as a greedy boss, using a thick Italian stereotype accent that’s rather offensive.
The characters are broadly written. Three screenwriters, Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, cobbled together this throwback caper, with the stars injecting some heart and humor, along with the requisite derring-do and danger.
Other than briefly pointing out the obvious misogyny and homophobia of that early 20th century era in King George V England, the film shies away from anything deeper. It does, after all, have roots in a Disneyland tourist excursion. But at least it shows the haughtiness of the male-dominated scientific establishment at that time.
There is a supernatural element that might not be suitable for young children, hence the PG-13 rating. Dark and frightening sequences involve reptiles, ghosts, poison darts and grotesque deaths.
The movie’s focus is on action, and while it zips along once you get past the ancient set-up, 2 hours, 7 minutes seems far too long for this excursion.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who made the generic Liam Neeson action movies “The Commuter,” “Non-Stop” and “Run All Night,” knows how to blow things up. He favors quick cuts, which can be traced to his music video-TV commercials background.
Like most summer blockbuster escapism, the film’s main purpose is to string together explosions and other big stunt pieces on land and water.
And the caves. waterfalls and lush landscapes are gorgeously shot by cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano. He has imbued an old-fashioned look, not unlike early “Tarzan” movies and Saturday morning serials.
The production design carries that through as well. Designer Jean-Vincent Puzos, who did “The Lost City of Z,” knows his way around dusty museums and mysterious civilizations. Most impressive is a massive stone structure rising out of the water.
But the CGI is so obvious. I can’t get past the fake-looking bees and not-real pet leopard.
Composer James Newton Howard has ramped up the dramatic swells of music in the manner of the Indiana Jones franchise.
Without the jolly fun of watching Blunt and Johnson wriggle out of tough situations and give some spark to their green-screen acting, the slick “Jungle Cruise” would be just another visual effects-heavy escapade that we have seen many times before.