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Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Drowned World"
1 stars

Considering that it is inspired--no matter how loosely--by the works of master fantasist Jules Verne, I went into the screening of "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" expecting to see the unexpected. Hell, the tagline on the poster says "Believe The Impossible. Discover The Incredible." and we all know that movie studios would never try to inflate their claims in order to make a poster seem spectacular. As it turns out, the statements on the poster are indeed true, though perhaps not in the way that one might have hoped or expected. For example, while it might seem impossible to believe, the filmmakers have somehow managed to take the inspiration of Verne's work and transformed it into the kind of brainless exercise that plays like the cinematic version of the kind of excitement-free video game that comes free with the purchase of one of those systems that disappears from shelves after a few months of total consumer disinterest. Additionally, older viewers may find it incredible to discover that Michael Caine has at long last managed to appear in a movie with the word "island" in the title that is even worse than "The Island." Finally, as impossible and incredible as it may seem, the existence of this particular film means that, against all odds, the 3D refurbishing of the already dreadful "The Phantom Menace" will not be the worst multi-dimensional family entertainment opening this weekend.

To be fair to Verne, "Journey 2" (as it shall be referred to from here on in) is not specifically based on his works, much to the presumed relief of his heirs. In fact, it is a loose sequel to "Journey to the Center of the Earth," a 2007 epic that was apparently seen by many, remembered by few (trust me, you hadn't given it a second thought since it originally came out and you know it) and is perhaps best known now for being one of the films that sparked the current 3D revival. That film, you won't recall, tried to do for Verne what "The Da Vinci Code" did for Da Vinci by formulating the conceit that what he wrote was not science-fiction at all but accurate accounts of inexplicable lands and creatures hidden throughout the world. You will also fail to recall that this film featured so-called Vernian Brendan Fraser, petulant brat nephew Josh Hutcherson and a hot Icelandic babe whose name currently escapes me as they found their way to the center of the Earth and encountered all sorts of theoretically awe-inspiring creatures that might have looked better if they hadn't been rendered murky by the light-dimming 3D process that didn't quite coalesce with the whole center-of-the-earth concept. Somewhat fuzzy on the whole experience myself, I quickly snuck a peek at what I had written about the film when it first came out and discovered that while I didn't exactly go out of my way to recommend it, I didn't entirely tear it to pieces and more or less admitted that if I had been a 10-year-old boy, I might have embraced both the film and the 3D gimmick a little more fully. Of course, while my 10-year-old self was always susceptible to big-screen silliness of a cheerfully screwball manner, he also had a certain degree of taste and were he to have been exposed to the likes of "Journey 2," I would like to think that he would have simply walked away and found something better to do.

One person who did apparently have something better to do is Brendan Fraser, who is nowhere to be seen here. This may not seem like a big deal to you--after all, most movies produced today are done without the participation of Brendan Fraser and few of them seem to have suffered for the inconvenience--but the fact that he presumably spit the bit at doing this one is just about the biggest red flag imaginable. Considering the fact that his filmography is studded with the jaw-dropping likes of "Monkeybone," "Inkheart," "Furry Vengeance" and "Crash," it is more than clear that this is a guy who is not exactly selective when it comes to picking scripts featuring implausible creatures roaming bout. And yet, even though I assume that they offered him the chance to appear in this film in the name of continuity, he declined a chance at a repeat performance. If this is all true--and I admit that I don't exactly know the specifics one way or another--then it presumably means that there are indeed some things that Brendan Fraser won't do for money. It reminds me of the old joke about the Polish soldier on leave for the weekend. He goes into a bar of a slightly disreputable nature and meets a lady of a certain reputation. They go back to her place and spend the night exploring their mutual interests, if you know what I mean. In the morning, the soldier gets dressed and is about to leave when the lady asks "Hey, what about the money?" The guy looks all insulted, stands up straight and in a huff retorts "Hmph, a Polish officer never accepts money."

Anyway, without Fraser or the hot Icelandic gal (who could inspire any number of equally thoughtful jokes as well but ones perhaps best saved for another time), that leaves us with only Hutcherson to serve as the only connective tissue between the two films as Sean, the budding Vernian who intercepts a radio signal that may have been sent from his long-lost grandfather from the seemingly mythical Mysterious Island. Perhaps realizing that Hutcherson's appeal is somewhat limited--imagine Logan Lerman without the pathos--the producers have made an effort to beef up the film with some additional familiar faces and pectorals. For starters, there is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Hank, the well-meaning stepdad who agrees to take Sean on a jaunt to the Hawaiian islands to find the Mysterious Island as a bonding experience and supplies both the muscles and the kind of oddly specific knowledge that comes in useful when one is faced with being trapped on a sinking island with an ancient submarine in need of an instant jump-start. There is the usually invaluable Luis Guzman as Gabato, the helicopter pilot hired to help them find the island and supply the kind of wacky ethnic humor that might be deemed offensive if it could be determined just what ethnicity he was impugning in the first place. There is Vanessa Hudgens as Gabato's daughter Kailani and she is there to supply. . .well, let me just say that when you see what she supplies, you will know it. Finally, there is none other than Michael Caine, no doubt trying to find a way to kill time between Christopher Nolan joints, as wacky grandfather Alexander Anderson, who has devoted 30 years of his life to finding the island and, having done so, appears to be spending the rest of his days being an insufferable jerk to everyone but Sean as a result. Oh yeah, back at home as Sean's mom is Kristin Davis, who does little more here than fret and stay in good graces with Warner/New Line in case someone is insane enough to launch "Sex and the City 3" anytime soon.

For reasons too labored to go into, the island--a bizarre land in which small creatures like bees and spider are ginormous while elephants are pocket-sized--is about to collapse into the ocean and our heroes must traverse it in order to escape it before they go into the drink. Along the way, we are treated to sights that we have seen before (a cavern collapse right out of the opening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and a forest chase that is a direct lift of the one admittedly cool part of "Return of the Jedi"), sights that have been seen too often in the commercials (such as Hank popping his pecs to show Sean how to attract Kailani, overlooking the fact that her pecs are far more impressive and well-defined than his) and sights that few rational people would have ever dreamed that they would one day bear witness too (such as Luis Guzman getting covered with giant bird poop or The Rock singing "What a Wonderful World" with special novelty lyrics. Alas, these elements fail to distract from the film's more pressing problems, such as the fact that absolutely nothing about it works--it isn't funny, it isn't exciting, the 3D effects are ho-hum and it plunges into levels of stupidity that even the little kids it is being aimed at will find insulting. (For example, if Sean is such an ambitious and brilliant student and explorer, how is it that he is somehow unfamiliar with the concept of latitude and longitude in regards to maps?) And while I understand that such a thing would have gone over the heads of nearly every audience member, how could it be possible that a film could conceive of a scene involving Michael Caine riding a giant bee through the sky and not work in at least one reference to "The Swarm," the infamous killer bee disaster movie he did for Irwin Allen which is now only the second-worst bee-related film in his oeuvre.

The biggest failing of "Journey 2," especially considering the basic source material, is its absolute lack of imagination when it comes to depicting the magical world of the mysterious island. There are some fantasy films like "Avatar" and the "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" sagas in which enormous sums of money have been dedicated to creating astonishingly detailed worlds that almost feel real. Then there are fantasy films in which the level of verisimilitude is somewhat reduced--remember those cut-rate 1970's films where Doug McClure would stumble amidst cardboard rocks to save Caroline Munro from a demonstrably fake giant insect while Peter Cushing furrowed his brow in the background? (This may not have been a specific film but in my mind, it should have been.) For a film like this, either approach would have sufficed--quite frankly, I would have actually relished a deliberately tacky take--but "Journey 2" winds up splitting the difference by giving us a world that is meant to dazzle us with all of its digital wizardry but it has been deployed in such a shabby manner that the whole thing just looks like the kind of messy green-screen effects that will leave most viewers feeling green. Not helping matters much is director Brad Peyton's bizarre decision to interrupt most of his big action beats--which aren't exactly that thrilling in the first place--with shifts into slo-mo that are so prevalent that even Brian De Palma himself might have questioned their overuse after a while.

"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" is total junk--a film that takes a potentially entertaining premise, a game and usually entertaining cast (save for that Hutcherson punk) and gobs of money and somehow fails to come up with anything memorable or worthwhile in return. And yet, because there has been a slight lull in family-oriented films in the wake of the glut of them last Christmas, there are some parents out there who may decide that it will be worth a trip to the multiplex on the basis that it can't be worse than "The Phantom Menace." Let me put it this way--if you see only one family-oriented 3D film this weekend, make it "Hugo." Even if you have already seen "Hugo," do it again because if too many people go to see this one, there is the danger that someone may get the bright idea of making a third film in which the characters go off to a mysterious land based on a seemingly fictional book that turns out to be true. If that does come to be and Hudgens is contractually obligated to appear, let us hope that the book in question is "The Blue Lagoon."

NOTE: Before the film proper, viewers are treated to a 3D Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Daffy Duck (voiced via some previously unused vocal tracks from the late, great Mel Blanc) attempting to perform a musical number while Elmer Fudd tries to gun him down in what is basically a tired and ugly rehash of the classic "The Rabbit of Seville." Under normal circumstances, I am one of those people who insists on getting to the movie theater as early as possible so as to get the right seat and get settled in long before the trailers begin and look upon those who come in late with the upmost scorn. However, if ever there was a time when I wish I had missed the first few minutes of the theatrical presentation, this would be that time.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20773&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/09/12 21:36:03
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User Comments

3/08/12 Lenny Zane Volcanic ash made of gold? Electric eel jump-starts submarine? "Good bad" movie! 4 stars
3/07/12 Heather Courtney Gladstone Generally pleasing romp with this motley crew of a cast. Adventure trumps hokiness. 4 stars
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  10-Feb-2012 (PG)
  DVD: 05-Jun-2012


  DVD: 05-Jun-2012

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