Review: ‘Jungle Cruise,’ Road to Nowhere

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt star in an action adventure, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. 

Cheerily haphazard in nature, Jungle Cruise quickly reveals its instinct for precisely-timed, jam-packed action sequences that are entirely plucked from the minds and imaginations of people who are dreaming on a lazy afternoon. 

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra has consistently demonstrated his craft at constructing visually appealing scenarios in a series of popcorn thrillers, often starring Liam Neeson (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter). His most satisfying films have displayed a canny sense of how a strong directorial voice can overcome narrative nonsense (Orphan) and a premise that appears quite limiting (The Shallows) .

In Jungle Cruise, his filmmaking skills coalesce to make a roundly entertaining motion picture that walks a fine line between risible and ridiculous. Frequently, it becomes well-nigh impossible to discern any intentions behind a scene before the succeeding scene leaps off in a different, absurd direction, equally risible and/or ridiculous.  

Dwayne Johnson stars as riverboat captain Frank Wolff, an amiable sort of scrappy trouble on the Amazon in 1916 Brazil. Emily Blunt stars opposite him as Lily Houghton, recently arrived  from the UK with her brother Jack Whitehall, who is the discreetly gay MacGregor Houghton. 

Lily is in possession of an arrowhead that is extremely rare and valuable, said to be the key to finding Something Awesome that will cure every disease on Earth. In hot pursuit is Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim, a broadly Germanic warrior who also wants Something Awesome, though for personal profit, not the good of mankind. 

The screenplay, credited to veteran writers Michael Green and the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, is filled to bursting with incidents, eventually overflowing, as though it were meant to keep people occupied while waiting in a long line for a theme park attraction. It begins to feel like a two-hour animated adventure that has overstayed its welcome, repeating similar action beats ad infinitum. 

The entire cast gets the joke, perhaps instructed to play their roles as broadly as possible, with a wink and a nod to Jungle Cruise enthusiasts — this is a movie version of a theme park attraction, after all. Johnson, especially, is in his self-mocking element, from the pun-filled salute to Jungle Cruise captains worldwide, who feel compelled to riff endless on the same tired jokes, to jokes about his size and stature.

Emily Blunt gets into the spirit of things easily; she’s the most talented actor and shows her ease at gliding through dialogue and displaying a sassy, spunky attitude; this is a woman in 1916 who is in control of her own agency. Jack Whitehall wisely recognizes that his role is a supporting player, the butt of many jokes, and the comic relief in an action-comedy. 

Jesse Plemons adroitly essays an evil villain, sometimes clueless and sometimes brilliant, but always showing up in the wrong place at the right time. Paul Giamatti contributes an amusing turn as a (broadly) Italian character; perhaps he is an ancestor of the Mario Brothers? Without tapping into the fuller range of their talents, Edgar Ramirez, Veronica Falcon and Sulem Calderon gamely make the most of their roles. 

As the action-adventure river winds onward, Jungle Cruise floats with it, sometimes  submerged by the elements surrounding it and occasionally conquering all. It’s a good ride but a bit long. 

The film opens in theaters in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on July 30, via Disney. It will also be available that day on Disney+ with Premier Access (an additional charge for subscribers). For more information about the film, visit the official site. 

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