Jungle Cruise (2021; Jaume Collet-Serra)
By Daniel Barnes
*Now playing in wide release and streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access.
Knockoffs Upon Knockoffs
Based on an opening day Disneyland ride heavily inspired by John Huston’s The African Queen, the long-delayed Jungle Cruise is unnecessary, unoriginal and practically unwatchable. It’s a moldy Indiana Jones knockoff clumsily sutured onto a rotting Pirates of the Caribbean knockoff, with romantic leads seemingly paired by focus groups, despite their complete lack of spark. Every time these Disney live-action remakes of animated classics and beloved theme park rides seem to touch the bottom of forced-smile fun and rubbery CGI, the abyss only yawns deeper.
Speaking of deep yawns, the brutally edited Jungle Cruise is clearly a 160-minute movie hacked into a 128-minute movie to feel like a 3,000-minute movie. Dwayne Johnson plays Frank Wolff, a “Dad joke”-spewing riverboat captain ferrying tourists through a generic jungle. Into this greenscreen paradise crashes Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt, getting paid for her time), a starry-eyed explorer searching for magic flowers. Frank and Lily cross paths with zombie conquistadors, dolphin hypnotists and German submarines on their journey into the heart of the jungle. Naturally, the shared adventure drives the protagonists into each other’s arms, even though Blunt and Johnson make the least credible screen couple since Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson.
It’s hard to explain how a performer with as much charisma and appeal as Johnson could consistently make such lifeless movies. From San Andreas and Skyscraper to Rampage and Baywatch, Johnson’s vehicles seem to promise low-down fun yet come out plodding and joyless. In many ways, Jungle Cruise is quintessential Johnson since the film only requires him to deliver one-liners in front of a greenscreen.