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Jungle Cruise
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by Peter Sobczynski

"River Of Diminishing Returns"
2 stars

“The Jungle Cruise” is one of those films that is so obviously constructed of ideas borrowed from other movies that some may be tempted to make a game out of it with their fellow audience members by seeing who can come up with the most titles of obvious inspirations—mine ran the gamut from the expected likes of “The African Queen,” “Romancing the Stone” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” to such comparative curve balls as “Medicine Man” and Werner Herzog masterpiece “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Unfortunately, it never quite lives up to the standards set by its inspirations and if you are a movie cannot manage to equal the accomplishments of the likes of “Medicine Man,” you know that you are in trouble.

As the World War I-era adventure starts, the intrepid Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is in search of the Tree of Life, which supposedly has incredible healing powers and which was the focus of an ill-fated quest hundreds of years earlier by the fabled conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez). Having tracked its possible location to the heart of the Amazon jungle, she, with her dandy brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) by her side, she arrives with the plan of charting a boat to take upriver in the hopes of finding it. This leads her to team up with Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a genial huckster who ferries tourists through a river trip suspiciously reminiscent of a certain theme park ride and whose boat is as creaky as the dad jokes he incessantly tells. Also in hot pursuit of the Tree of Life is Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who is the youngest son of Kaiser Wilhelm and who wants the plant for vague-but-nefarious reasons of his own. As they go deeper into the jungle, Frank and Lily bicker and banter as they find themselves racing to reach the tree before Joachim and, inevitably, the recently revived Aguirre and his long-dead band of followers.

As films inspired by Disney theme park attractions go, “The Jungle Cruise” lands somewhere smack in the middle—it is not quite as good as Brian De Palma’s audacious-if-uneven “Mission to Mars,” the genially bizarre “The Country Bears” (trust me on this) or the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” but it beats the subsequent “Pirates” films like a gong. The big problem with it is that it is one of those hard-sell contraptions that is so aggressively determined that viewers have “fun” during every single moment that it never once allows them to relax and actually have some for real. The story is one of those things that brings together the overly familiar with he utterly inexplicable (what is it with the mystical honeybees that Joachim appears to be working with in his quest?) before arriving at one of those extended conclusions where any sense of narrative or spatial coherence is thrown out the window as the FX crew goes bonkers. Perhaps a director with a flair for offbeat fantasy might have made something out of it but while Jaume Collet-Serra has proven himself a capable filmmaker in the past with such works as the audaciously nutty “Orphan” and the genuinely impressive shark attack thriller “The Shallows,” his work here is as anonymous as can be—ironically, considering his track record, it is when the story drifts into horror-lite territory that it falters the most. On the other hand, the enormously charismatic Johnson and Blunt play surprisingly well off of each other throughout but while their efforts help keep the film afloat for far longer than it might have lasted with other actors, all it really does in the end is make you want to see the two paired up again in a different and hopefully better movie. (Among the other players, Plemons’s performance as Joachim is ripe as can be while and Paul Giamatti turns up briefly to display an Italian accent that even Chico Marx might have found to be dubious.)

“The Jungle Cruise” never quite crosses over into becoming intolerable—it doesn’t leave you exhausted once it ends in the way that something like “F9” does—and it is just silly enough to keep younger viewers occupied for a couple of hours. However, despite the millions and millions of dollars worth of special effects on display in virtually every scene, the film simply never quite manages to conjure up any genuine moviegoing magic of its own.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32351&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/29/21 10:14:45
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  30-Jul-2021 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2021



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