Jungle Cruise

Rating:

HEART OF DARKNESS

Main Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

The first sales figures for Lesterene brand cosmetics new animal line, Vicki Vision – Primate Paints for the simians in your life are in and it is selling very well.  Apparently, there has been a dearth of beauty products especially formulated for non-human primates on the market and now that they are available, well-groomed macaques and bonobos the world over are demanding rouge, lipstick, and liquid eyeliner. I’ve had a hurried consultation with Fawn and Flapjack, my makeup artistes, and we’ve decided the time is right to expand our animal products to a wider range of species so Vicki Vision – Feline Fantasies and Vicki Vision – Doggy Dreams lines of cosmetics will be coming to your local Super Pets as soon as I can get Sharon, my graphic designer, to come up with suitable artwork for the packaging.  It needs to catch the eye, make the discerning shopper wonder why they haven’t been using blush on their Rottweiler before, and incorporate my famous face.  The initial concept sketches which put my head on various animal bodies were not as stunning as I had hoped so Sharon is hard at work with her sketchpad and promises something by the weekend.

dog in costume
This handsome chap is clearly yearning for some lip color.

We are near the end of the shooting schedule on Donna Quixote: Woman of La Mancha, with only a few days left to shoot in Toledo in the winding streets of the old town, subbing in for the back streets of Paris where we have some sequences where Donna goes up against Coco Chanel and Christian Dior in a battle for high fashion supremacy.  This includes the episode where Christian (being played by my old friend Letch Feeley) breaks into Donna’s atelier and trashes her spring collection the night before it’s due on the runway. 

My character, on discovering the carnage, gives an impassioned monologue on art, before dressing the models in shredded remains, adding a few spangles and feather boas, declaring it a new avant garde movement in fashion and triumphantly wowing the critics.  We then move to Cordoba where we film for few days in the Grand Mosque, a sequence in which Donna does a tap off with various allegorical figures representing adversities in her life and then that’s a wrap.

I’ve been fairly busy these last few weeks with my shooting schedule, reviewing the dailies, and working on my consumer product lines and just haven’t had the time I would like to devote to viewing other people’s films.  I did, however, finish a bit early last night and, while looking through various streaming services, found Disney’s new action adventure film, Jungle Cruise, based on the riverboat ride of the same name that’s been the centerpiece of Adventureland for decades. I therefore made myself a large rock shandy and settled in for a viewing.  I was amused enough to stay awake through the whole thing, but that’s about the most positive thing that I can say.

A few decades ago, Disney, in its never ending quest to monetize its various properties, decided to turn one of its classic rides, Pirates of the Caribbean, into a feature film.  What was a not so great idea turned into a worldwide box office smash, thanks to Johnny Depp’s brilliantly weird Captain Jack Sparrow which lifted the film out of family action adventure into its own realm of Monty Python goes to sea in the 17th century.  It spawned four sequels, millions in profits, and a search for Disney for other rides which could be turned into film properties.  To date we have been spared the It’s a Small World movie although we did get a not very good The Haunted Mansion and now, we have Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Emily Blunt. 

I think the studio was trying to get lightning to strike twice in their development of Jungle Cruise as it has elements highly reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean including gross shape shifting villains, a strong sense of period, a feisty heroine, and a hero who quips his way through the proceedings.  They also appear to have studied the 1999 remake of The Mummy by giving the heroine a somewhat effete wastrel brother, and an attempt at comic brio in the action scenes. 

Unfortunately, Dwayne Johnson is not the actor you hire to carry comic adventure.  He’s far too deadpan serious and has no real ability to lighten up or understand how to find and play the comic undertones in the subtext.  Emily Blunt can do it but every time she comes up against The Rock, the ship sinks.  The supporting cast, for the most part, get what kind of film they’re in and do as well as they can with what they’ve got but the script is leaden and doesn’t really give them enough time or moments to breathe and develop a full comic forward thrust. Jesse Plemons, as an evil German aristocrat chasing our intrepid heroes up the Amazon in a U-boat, comes off the best.  Paul Giamatti, as a crusty old harbor master of the river port where the cruise begins, also has some great moments but vanishes from the film twenty minutes in and doesn’t have anywhere near enough to do.

Dwayne Johnson’s Frank Wolff, our cruise skipper, seems to have based his character on Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie Allnutt from The African Queen, both in look and mannerisms.  He’s no Bogey and doesn’t seem to understand any of what made that character memorable and Oscar worthy.  Emily Blunt is playing a distaff version of Indiana Jones, an academic type who only comes alive with physical exploits in the field.  Where an Edwardian lady of her age and station would have learned all of this is not explained. 

The plot of Jungle Cruise is a farrago of nonsense about a magic tree in the heart of the Amazon whose petals can cure all illness.  Emily Blunt and her brother (Jack Whitehall) have traveled to South America from London (after she has been refused support for her scholarly activities as she is a woman) and end up hiring Dwayne Johnson and his boat to take them upriver to find this marvelous tree known as The Tears of the Moon.  They are pursued by the aforementioned U-boat and by a group of magically transformed conquistadors, cursed by the natives centuries ago, and who have taken on various elements of the jungle.  They are helped by friendly natives, especially those led by Trader Sam (Veronica Falcon – the name is a nod to the ride), and Frank has a pet jaguar, Proxima, who also comes in handy.  The plot, of course, has everything coming out all right in the end and is wide open for a sequel.

There are a few jokes that land, some fun action sequences, and its rarely boring.  But every time we go back to Dwayne Johnson’s Frank, what little air that’s been introduced is immediately squeezed out and the whole thing deflates.  One wonders what might have happened if the lead had been cast with an action hero with a sense of comedy and comic timing.  Bruce Willis of twenty years ago would have been ideal.  I can’t think of any current action stars of the right age and type that could give it the zest it needs.  Emily Blunt acquits herself well.  She just needed a better leading man to play off.  I won’t say don’t watch Jungle Cruise, but rather that it’s a film of wasted opportunities.

Toucan model. Hanging from ladders. Omnibus full of soldiers.  Bee smashing. Gratuitous Edwardian dweeb tourists. Boats falling from trees. Spear through chest. Rapidly dying blossoms.  Underwater puzzle solving.  U-boat crash. Mud monster.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction

image by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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