Not even the charming leads could keep their boat from sinking.
“Jungle Cruise” is based on the Disneyland ride, which was inspired by “The African Queen,” the one film that gave Humphrey Bogart his Oscar. This film version stars Dwayne Johnson in the Bogart-inspired role and Emily Blunt in the Katherine Hepburn-inspired role, and they both add a goofy spark and charm to their characters. I ran into an old buddy of mine, who just attended the 6pm show, and we both agreed: Johnson and Blunt both work while the story gets bungled in the jungle, and tries to compete with the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” another Disneyland ride, which became a franchise.
The story is set in 1916, when the adventurous Lily Houghton (Blunt) takes her wimpy brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) to the Amazon jungle to find a sacred flower, known as the Tears of the Moon, that could save countless lives. It resides on a magic tree, and many have tried and failed, including a Spanish conquistador (Edgar Ramirez) trapped there, but Lily manages to get a ride with tour guide Frank Wolff (Johnson). He’s an expert on trickery and bad puns, which his passengers get exhausted of.
Lily prefers to get her hands dirty, swing on ropes and ladders, and steal an arrowhead which can lead her to the plant, while her brother has to pack a bunch of suitcases on the trip. Meanwhile, Frank uses his leopard to convince her to let him guide her. Not in a threatening way, but rather a stage age to prove he’s the macho man of the period.
They both have a villain to deal with. Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) is his name, and coveting the flower is his game. He’s a German aristocrat who leads a military expedition to the tree, and also brings to life the conquistador and his men, who are mutated with bees, trees, snakes, and mud. At least I think it’s mud. They were trapped in the pit, because their curse requires them to reside by the river for survival. And since Joachim gives them river water, they walk again.
Seeing one of the conquistadors covered in honey and bees reminded me, unfortunately, of an “Itchy and Scratchy” joke when Itchy makes a honey comb grow inside Scratchy on “The Simpsons.” And I also think they’ll also disturb the young children in the audience, because they jump out, their snakes attack people, and they’re just not very pleasant to gaze at.
Johnson is able to portray the action hero with a comical attitude, as if he were trying to spoof Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, and Blunt is delightful when she portrays the determined and independent woman, who is smarter then the men in this time period would see her. After all, the men where appalled when Shirley MacLaine was in the Reform Room in “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Don’t get my reference? See that movie from 1956 then.
But “Jungle Cruise” has a big leak in its boat. Actually, it’s a lot of leaks. The adventures have to succumb to the wall-to-wall CGI effects, the villains are all cut-and-paste, and we even have to deal with Paul Giamatti as a jerky and kooky harbormaster with a cartoonish accent.
The movie was directed by Jaume Collett-Serra, who is capable of making entertaining action flicks like “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” and “The Shallows.” In “Jungle Cruise,” he does an effective job at guiding the leads, but he has nothing on John Huston’s remarkable direction of “The African Queen.” It takes a true adventure film lover to not indulge us with all the effects and action, and gives us something much more vivid than what was provided here.
Miss this boat.
In Theaters and Streaming on Disney+