Not content with the seemingly endless stream of content they’ve gleaned from Marvel, Star Wars and all the times they’ve remade their own movies into live action, Disney seems to have gone back to that strange habit of theirs where they panel beat one their Disneyland rides into something approaching a feature film whether the concept can hold it or not. Whether this tactic is a viable one is entirely up to you, although while Pirates Of The Caribbean (iffy sequels aside) is rightfully considered a success, Eddie Murphy screaming his way through The Haunted Mansion was about as enthralling as a concert made up entirely of vomit belches…
The newest attempt at making a rollercoaster ride out of… well, a rollercoaster ride is Jungle Cruise, the latest in a long line of movies that sees Dwayne Johnson dressed in khaki colours while making his way through dense tropical foliage. Does it manage to chart a winning course through the winding river that is audience appreciation?
Dr. Lilly Houghton is a plucky botanist who is desperate to mount an expedition to the Amazon in order to find the Tears Of The Moon, mythical tree who’s leaves are thought to be able to heal illness and lift curses (big call for curse lifting in hospitals in 1916, I guess) and so with protesting brother MacGregor in tow, she filtches an arrowhead from the Royal Society that’s said to be vital to locating the magical tree and zips off to Africa to secure a guide. That guide turns out to be Frank Wolff, a mountainous riverboat skipper who has amounted massive debts despite running a river cruise with heavily fabricated dangers to gullible paying customers – so armed with with the arrowhead, an ancient map, a tame jaguar and a literal boat-load of unending dad jokes that Frank unleashes whenever the mood takes him, the trio head off to find what they seek.
However, throughout their journey they encounter some major pushback in the form of the crusty harbourmaster that Frank owes money to, the utterly mental German royal Prince Joachim who wants the tree for the war effort and, worst of all, a quartet of undead Conquistadors lead by the power hungry Agurrie who have become of the jungle since being cursed with immortality around 400 years earlier.
As Lily and Frank’s banter goes from outright loathing, to mild annoyance, to something predictably a lot warmer, they’ll have to avoid spectral monsters, fiendish traps and a fucking german submarine to achieve their goals, but the hardest obstacle they’ll have to climb is Frank’s legitimately batshit past which suggests that maybe he’s not to be trusted…
As knockabout action/adventure go, Jungle Cruise might not have the most orginal material swimming around in it’s DNA, but it’s an admittedly cheerful swashbuckler that’s got a decent rate of cardio thanks to the breathless pace it’s set itself. Hungrily draining off bits of Pirates Of The Caribbean, The Mummy and even The African Queen (three films you don’t usually expect to hear mentioned in the same sentence) like a colourful leech that’s rated for a family audience, Jaume Collet-Serra’s breathless actioner may score low on the originality scale and comes completely off the rails at numerous occasions, but it’s rarely dull…
The main reason Jungle Cruise doesn’t beat you into an exhausted fugue state a mere twenty minutes after it’s started is mainly down to the performance of Emily Blunt, who takes a similar role as Rachel Weiss’s gutsy librarian in The Mummy and dials it up to eleven. You see, Lily doesn’t just talk a good game while shocking the men folk by having the audacity of wearing trousers (the very nerve), while eventually graduating to action hero status later in the film – no, the film slings her into complicated action sequences straight from the off making her sort of a tremendously fussy Lara Croft who matches her impeccable comedy skills with the infinate charisma of Dwayne Johnson and confidently walks away the champ.
Not that Johnson is slacking in the hero stakes, dealing out excruciating puns and swaying around in a natty skipper’s outfit looking like Popeye ate Bluto, but he’s a far more laid back presence compared to Blunt’s razor tongued firecracker – possibly because this is what seems to be the 257th movie that’s seen the owner of the people’s eyebrow stumble though the jungle – quick prediction: he’ll do an Xmas themed one called Jungle All The Way.
As for the rest of the cast, well, welcome to overactors anonymous where Paul Giamatti (disappointingly under utilised) and Jessie Plemons attempt to employ the most ludicrous accents I’ve heard attempted in quite a while with Plemons attempts at German in particular amusingly falling just on the right side of Herr Flick from Allo Allo.
I also have to admit that I was cursing inwardly when I realised that Jack Whitehall was in this too, but to give the guy his due he isn’t anywhere near as teeth-shreddingly annoying as I thought he was gonna be and he actually adds far more to the story that just being comic foil for everyone else in the cast.
Visually the film is a smorgasbord of digital visuals of greatly differing quality that contains some genuinely neat touches (Frank’s fake jungle cruise is pretty much the actual Jungle Cruise ride complete with claims that it’s pretty lame) and a back story concerning the mystical legends that’s genuinely off it’s tits and is bewilderingly scored to an instrumental version to Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters – no… really.
Some of the action suffers a little from too many close ups and some murky cinematography that renders the run-ins with Edgar Ramirez’s superpowered conquistadors almost incomprehensible and while the creature designs are pretty cool (a muck man, a vine man, a beehive man and a dude who’s body is crammed with more derranged snakes than the Well Of The Souls) they’re obviously a pale imitation of Davey Jones’ crustacean crew from the second Pirates movie.
Containing as much originality as a line up of Imperial Stormtroopers, Jungle Cruise nevertheless is a diverting giggle thanks to the ferocious snark of the two leads and some legitimately weird action beats (riverboat jumping a torpedo, anyone?), Jungle Cruise ends up being quite the fun little trip up river that’ll put a wee smile on your boat race.