New Disney films should come shrink-wrapped for our consumption.
After all, each glossy product arrives fresh off a conveyor belt, manufactured to wring every ounce of CGI and synergy the studio can muster.
“Jungle Cruise,” a hybrid of the “Pirates” franchise and Indiana Jones, epitomizes that approach. It’s far from terrible, mostly thanks to its colorful locales and two engaging leads. It still feels inauthentic from start to finish. Even the organic moments are hobbled by plot twists and forced bouts of whimsy.
Emily Blunt stars as Dr. Lily Houghton, the kind of screen heroine who could only exist in the 21st century. She’s tougher than most men, headstrong to a fault and she refuses to wear what proper women of her era don. In between escaping Rube Goldberg-style traps she tells strangers that their animals shouldn’t be in cages.
If not for her fear of swimming she’d be a perfect Mary Sue.
Lily hires a crusty skipper named Frank (Dwayne Johnson) to pilot her down the Amazon river to find a legendary tree with the power to heal anyone of any condition. It won’t be easy, though, as a German thug and his sizable submarine hope to get there first.
Plus, Frank isn’t always true to his word, a character tic that starts out strong but eventually wears out its welcome.
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Director Jaume Collet-Serra of “Orphan” and “Unknown” fame keeps the action frantic, the comedy zippy to a fault. Lily and Frank find some romantic chemistry early on, but it’s sidetracked by a massive plot twist that can’t help but torpedo those vibes.
Kudos to Blunt and Johnson for somehow connecting through the mayhem. Their banter isn’t always genuine, but it clicks just enough to draw us in. Focus on that, and not the avalanche of “world building” and generic FX, and you’ve got yourself a legit franchise.
The same can’t be said of the leopard that tracks our heroes down the river, a CGI creation which never for a second looks real. We’ve seen CGI beasts before, and they’re often indistinguishable from the real thing.
Plus, it’s a supplemental character so silly only the kiddies will enjoy. The same can be said about the film itself. Children will look past the noisy plotting and forced antics, but their parents won’t be so kind.
A few fine actors get corralled by Team Disney, including Paul Giamatti and Jesse Plemons. The material is beneath both stars, but at least the “Billions” standout has what amounts to an extended cameo. Plemons is tasked with anchoring the film’s villain quotient, a role he was not cut out to perform.
We’re also given Edgar Ramirez playing a lost soul who could slip into any “Pirates” movie without anyone missing a beat. Yes, the CGI draped all over “Jungle Cruise” is another sign of the Disney M.O. Just throw ones and zeroes at a blockbuster property and the audience will be sufficiently dazzled.
Not this time.
The story is presumably set in the early 1900s, which gives the film an excuse to trot out an old-timey film camera for the movie’s most endearing moments. They’re brief but welcome, especially when Frank shoots Lily with the device. You can almost see him appreciate her as more than just a high paying client.
Her character remains an anachronism, as does Lily’s brother. Jack Whitehall handles much of the comic relief as the unctuous sibling, but a mid-movie reveal, and the reaction it generates, feels ripped out of the woke playbook.
‘Jungle Cruise’ Star Jack Whitehall Is ‘Proud’ of His Gay Character’s Coming-Out Scene in Disney Film https://t.co/0RwIisxMKJ
— Variety (@Variety) July 26, 2021
Can the characters at least pretend they didn’t time travel to the film’s setting from the Summer of 2021?
Like most bloated blockbusters, “Jungle Cruise” is too long, with too many flashbacks that fail to elicit wonder. It’s still enough, at times, when Blunt and Johnson are showing what movie stars can still do in the modern age.
What a shame that said moments are elbowed aside with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
HiT or Miss: “Jungle Cruise” is busy and bewildering, a glossy mess saved by its charismatic stars