‘I’ ON CULTURE
Most people will enjoy Disney’s Jungle Cruise if they go in, like people do on the actual park ride, not expecting too much. Yes, it is fun. There are some laughs, the characters are played by appealing actors, but it really seems like we’ve sat and watched this before.
Of course, it is derivative. It is based on the park ride which pretends to be going up a river while being scared by mechanical animals and amused by corny jokes. But more than that, it is pretty much a copy of a lot of movies. Blink and you can almost see Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in African Queen. And you can probably imagine Harrison Ford and one of the women in an Indiana Jones movie. But the real rip-off is from The Mummy films. It felt as though Disney decided to save money by just making a few adjustments in that script. You can easily imagine Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in the part. Or perhaps Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone.
Just imagine an intelligent, professional woman who meets a reprobate. She needs his help, gets it reluctantly, wins the day and winds up with the guy, who turns out to be a hero. That describes this movie just about perfectly.
Plot-wise, it gets convoluted, but starts out simply. Scientist and explorer Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), accompanied by her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who is a proper but somewhat bumbling Englishman, is after a blossom from a plant called Tears of the Moon that will cure all diseases (sort of like the Holy Grail for Indy). She steals an arrowhead necessary to get there from a stuffy British group and is on her way to Brazil, where she enlists Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), a scruffy pilot, to take her upstream into possibly treacherous territory to find that plant.
Their relationship is rocky for much of the film and gets rockier as the boat takes on fierce rapids, an army of zombie soldiers led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) — a man who has hated Frank for a long time — plus evil German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who leads his team in a quest to get that rare flower before Lily. It all gets rather ridiculous, even mind-bendingly supernatural, but isn’t that always the way in these bloated enterprises?
But who cares about common sense? The film is set during World War I, but the British institution is ready to give that arrowhead to the German, who thinks it can help his country win the war, in a nice bit of corruption that rings true everywhere. It is a small world after all. And the German has his own submarine. And there are a lot of snakes and bees to go with the zombies. Of course, Frank has his own animal — a large and protective jaguar.
The story is the same as in all the other films. Good against evil. Of course, these days we have to have wisecracks, and Blunt and Johnson toss them back and forth, to mask the expected incredible chemistry, which all in all just does not exist in the film. They’re sniping at each other until the very end, and they seem better as buddies than lovers. Whitehall was amusing as the gay brother who finally comes into his own, and Paul Giamatti has a cute smaller role as the villainous Nilo. Plemons has a strange part; clearly a villain, he comes across as a bit too much of a bumbler, a bit of a clown. The jaguar is really good, giving the best performance of all.
But the movie comes down to Johnson and Blunt. They are charming. Johnson even does a few of the horrible puns you hear at the Disney World ride. And he is one of the most likeable characters around, a hero who knows his feet are made of clay. And Blunt is great as usual, spunky and charming. You almost believe she is falling for our hero.
The scenery is spectacular and the effects are great, a bit scary for the really young, but still fun. Is it worth seeing? Yes, although a family with Disney+ could do better paying for it at home. But, almost against my will, I had a rollicking good time.