Jungle Cruise (2021)
Jungle Cruise (2021)

Genre: Action Comedy, Adventure, and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 9 min.

Release Date: July 30th, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Actors: Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Edgar Ramirez, Veronica Falcon, Sulem Calderon

 


 

“A

ll legends are born in truth …” One of which is about the Tears of the Moon, a magical petal from a rare (essentially one-of-a-kind) Brazilian tree that can cure any ailment, often sought after but never successfully procured. Conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) famously went in search of the prize, but was rumored to have been forever trapped in the jungle by a transformative curse. When an arrowhead is recovered from a recent Amazon Falls expedition and shipped to London, England (in 1916), botanist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) goes to great lengths to steal it from the Royal Anthropological Society, where her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) gives a speech in a failed attempt to acquire the relic as a legal loan.

“What fresh hell is this?” Once the artifact is in her possession, all Lily needs is a skipper to take her up the Amazon river to a dangerous region called Lagrimas de Cristal. But when she seeks out highly recommended entrepreneur Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti) for a boat, she stumbles upon broke but skilled navigator Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) instead. He’s rugged, skeptical, and fallacious, yet far more affordable and physically formidable, and so they soon embark on their mission – with fussy MacGregor in tow – as other interested parties, including the homicidal maniac Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), follow hot on their trail. “You can’t get there. Nobody can get there.”

With the introduction of the riverboat captain, the film finally begins to resemble the Jungle Cruise Disneyland ride on which it’s modeled, not only with visual gimmicks, but also with terribly cheesy puns – the signature form of entertainment from the theme park attraction. Many of the groan-inducing lines are lifted straight from the cruise’s own script, which the guides recite with glee – and they don’t let up, as silly jokes waft through virtually every scene. The source material kinship ceases there, however, as a high-speed pursuit from a submarine, a torpedo attack, and significant dock destruction escalate the action far beyond the limitations of the notably tame ride.

It’s also not long before the trio of searchers spies alien-like creatures, plays with a pet leopard, feasts on piranhas, and braves rapids. An abundance of CG flora and fauna takes away from the fun and realism, but they do allow for interactions that couldn’t occur otherwise. The supernatural fantasy elements increase correspondingly, making the film appear more and more like a derivation of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (from supporting characters to special effects); were it not for the lack of buccaneer costumes, this tale would be very much in line with those seafaring epics. It’s also reminiscent of Indiana Jones’ archaeology-based, wartime escapades – minus the stunts. Comparably, the comedy is continuous, alongside the adventure, with scene after scene of humor merged with excitement. Thanks to Disney and the PG-13 rating, both components are quite family-friendly and docile (including the unavoidable romance subplot). “You’re like an onion of deceit!”

Boasting a chemistry that attempts to mine the best parts of “The African Queen” – and somewhat succeeding from time to time – “Jungle Cruise’s” leads help to keep things amusing, even when the story proceeds with a formulaic quality that prevents it from being as original as it could have been. Johnson plays himself once again, while Blunt keeps up her recognizable yet routinely pleasant heroine; neither role is a stretch, but they’re entirely watchable together. Plus, to the script’s credit, Lily is not only an educated doctor, but also a remarkably capable woman; she’s nowhere near to the typical damsels-in-distress often found in these pictures (resulting in a number of jokes on behalf of her attire, and the shock of a woman being in places reserved for men, like in the final moments of “Around the World in 80 Days”). She’s every bit as tough – or tougher – than her male counterparts, making for an uncommonly equal partnership. In the end, which carries on a bit too long, “Jungle Cruise” manages to be engaging enough, even if it plays out with exceptionally few surprises.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10