‘Jungle Cruise’ review: Johnson and Blunt can’t save the trip



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Starting this Friday, if you’re willing to devote the time (a little over two hours) and money (either the price of a theater ticket or a Disney + Premier access fee of 29.99 $), you can watch the new movie “Jungle Cruise”. , a state-of-the-art, old-fashioned action adventure inspired by the long-running Disney theme park ride. Alternatively, in much less time (eight minutes) and with no money at all, you can watch a video recording of said theme park ride on YouTube.

I don’t mean to say that these are exactly equivalent experiences. Personally, I prefer the YouTube version, which may have been filmed in a giant Anaheim water tank decorated with imported plants and mechanical elephants, but still manages to deliver the less artificial and more persuasive jungle landscape inhabited. both. Fans of Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and the color orange, however, will likely want to jump into the longer, brighter, and digitally enhanced version, perhaps hoping that like Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. – the first, anyway – it’ll manage to turn a slow-motion boat ride into energetic, nostalgic cinematic entertainment.

And of course, this “Jungle Cruise”, brilliantly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“The Shallows”), reproduces some of the characteristic pleasures of the ride in an elaborate computer-generated form: the proliferation of leaves, the exotic fauna, the gentle flowing stream. By that I also mean the skipper’s flood of puns, which is played by Johnson. It’s hard to deny that he represents an improvement over the average Disney Park employee – without wanting to offend the average Disney Park employee. And whether you are averse to puns or (like me) think the whole business should have been renamed “Pungle Cruise,” the mischievous spirit that has always underpinned Johnson’s muscular musculature serves him well in this department. . What a stupid, tongue-in-cheek pleasure to hear him say things like “toucan play this game” or point out that certain rocks are “taken for granite”. (Some rocks too, sure.)

Jack Whitehall, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson in the movie “Jungle Cruise”.

(Frank Masi / Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

Being a feature film, of course, “Jungle Cruise” has to traffic in niceties like plot, character, and mythology, even though the result, scripted by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, is derived to the point of disjointed. Johnson is Frank, the cunning captain of a rickety tourist trap on the Amazon River, trying to survive half-honest amidst stiff competition from a local big guy (Paul Giamatti). Blunt plays Frank’s last passenger, Lily Houghton, an apt name for a noble-minded English botanist who tries to find “Tears of the Moon”, a legendary flower known for its amazing healing powers. Fate brings these two singularly stubborn individuals together for a long and rowdy journey downstream, pitting Frank’s cynical self-interest against Lily’s naive idealism and pairing Blunt’s withered and trusting eyebrows with Johnson’s expressive eyebrows.

The chemistry generated by all of these eye fights is not insignificant, and it powers this waterlogged stellar vehicle through its animated, semi-cohesive action sequences and narrative incident flurries. It’s 1916 and World War I is raging, which at least in part explains Jesse Plemons’ exaggerated turn as Prince Joachim, a mustached German villain who will slaughter any person or vowel that stands in his way. He’s determined to reap the tears of the moon before Lily, even if that means leading a submarine down the Amazon in pursuit of her. And hot is the key word, given the sweltering temperatures in Brazil suggested by the oppressive earth tones of Flavio Labiano’s digital cinematography and the beads of sweat you can practically see clinging to Paco Delgado’s costumes.

Speaking of which: Also in attendance is Lily’s brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who has dapper tastes, packs way too many suitcases and, as the film rarely tires of reminding us, is comically ill-equipped for any guy. rough life or heterosexual entanglement. But don’t worry: once it’s done poking fun at an effeminate male stereotype, the script rushes in with a cautious exit monologue perfectly suited to spawn a new round of headlines celebrating and / or criticizing the latest one. Disney’s LGBTQ milestone. That being Disney, of course, we’re pretty far away from, say, the hostile family subversions of “I Love You Phillip Morris,” Ficarra and Requa’s cheerful 2010 comedy on queer awakening. Even in these ostensibly puny settings, the only jungle cruise that takes place here is too literal.

People in tribal costume dance in a line surrounded by torches

A scene from the movie “Jungle Cruise”.

(Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Yet MacGregor’s backstory isn’t the only time this early 20th-century epic winks at a decidedly 21st-century audience. As my Times colleague Todd Martens recently reviewed in a thoughtful and deeply reported article, the Jungle Cruise ride, a Disneyland prop since the park opened in 1955, recently underwent a major overhaul that abandoned its racist representations of indigenous peoples. The film, through clever tinkering, accomplishes something similar, turning its gallery of spear-wielding headhunters into a devious joke at the expense of Western colonialist assumptions. The real villains here are the power-hungry Prince of Plemons and his army of undead Spanish conquistadors, one of whom (played by Edgar Ramirez) is none other than Agirre himself. This historic nod evokes pious Herzogian connotations in an otherwise crafted film under the spell of “The African Queen” (itself a design influence on the original ride), Indiana Jones, “Romancing the Stone” and others. films from an earlier era of adventure seeking cinema.

To see these films again may be to plunge back into a world of cheap jokes and backslid attitudes. But it’s also worth remembering what mainstream American films looked like before the era of wall-to-wall visual effects, the genre that turned the modern blockbuster into a brilliant proposition, increasingly soulless and at times downright ugly. “Romancing the Stone” had living snakes and snapping alligators and a noticeably real sense of peril; this movie has a digitally made jaguar, among other computer-generated creepy-crawlies, and not a real thrill or fear among them. “Jungle Cruise,” despite its more than capable tracks and much-vaunted attention to detail and verisimilitude, never feels transporting in the way that even mediocre blockbusters were once capable of mustering. It is less an expedition than a simulation, a dispatch from a wild but strangely virgin world where seeing is never close to believing.

“Jungle cruise”

Evaluation: PG-13, for adventure violence sequences

Duration of operation: 2 hours, 7 minutes

Playing: Starts July 30 in general release; also available in PVOD on Disney +



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