JUNGLE CRUISE is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. The film stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.
In 1916, as World War I rages in Europe, brother and sister Lily and McGregor Houghton are in search of the mythical Tree of Life, which is believed to have the ability to cure any illnesses and ailments, and could change the world for the best. The duo heads to South America and connects with an eccentric riverboat pilot, but it’s not long before the trio finds themselves facing threats including headhunters, piranhas, revived ancient beings, and a German royal in a U-boat who’s determined to find the secrets of the Tree of Life for himself.
JUNGLE CRUISE is a bit of a mess and feels like a hodgepodge of other movie franchises; it’s essentially what you’d get if you threw THE AFRICAN QUEEN, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and INDIANA JONES in a blender. There’s nothing original about this movie, but the surprise chemistry of the leads and the old-fashioned adventure storytelling make for some entertaining viewing nonetheless.
If there’s one thing to praise about JUNGLE CRUISE, it’s the casting. I never would have imagined Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt to play so well off of one another, but I eagerly looked forward to every scene these two spent together, swapping quips and wisecracks with laugh-worthy results nearly every time. These two come from different worlds and Johnson’s character makes no apologies for his sleazy and deceitful nature at times, but this just makes for something all the more entertaining. Also hilarious is the juxtaposition of the adventurous and outdoorsy type played by Blunt to her mild-mannered and sheltered brother, portrayed by Whitehall; it makes for a hilariously unexpected role reversal.
As far as the non-immediate cast goes, Jesse Plemons (GAME NIGHT, HOSTILES) has a ton of fun with his role as the German villain, chewing up the scenery every time he’s on camera. Greedy and sleazy, he’s the quintessential villain you love to hate. Other villains, including those that come in the form of the sprits of hundreds-of-year-old conquistadors, are fearsome, but ultimately feel tertiary in the grand scheme of things and don’t quite get to make the same impact as Plemons.
Also worth giving credit to here is the old-fashioned escapism the movie offers. In a world dominated by superhero fare and the like, going back in time like this is always a welcomed diversion. JUNGLE CRUISE plays like THE AFRICAN QUEEN with more than a few twists and turns along the way. Yes, there are too many, but I think this is one of those instances where moviegoers will be having too much fun to care, no doubt fueled by the nostalgia bug.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite get a perfect score. At times it borrows a little TOO heavily from the movie’s it’s clearly inspired by and referencing. You’ll get an all-too-familiar sense of deja vu as you’re watching this one, with entire plot points that feel like they’ve been ripped from other (and in many cases superior) films. There’s also too much backstory and too many subplots; some of the developments involving Johnson’s character as the movie moves into its third act feel a bit heavy and far-fetched, which doesn’t do the otherwise fine film any favors. JUNGLE CRUISE works best when it keeps things simple and sticks to the chemistry of its leads, and, well, the jungle cruise, though that’s not to say some of the side trips aren’t fun.
JUNGLE CRUISE, being based on a Disney Parks attraction, wasn’t a film I had the highest hopes for, yet what I saw unfold on screen pleasantly surprised me with the chemistry of its lead actors, a fun menacing villain, a strong heroine, and plenty of intriguing scenery and developments that kept it from every singing into mediocrity or B-movie territory. It’s not at all original, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic viewing experience. Three out of four stars for this one. Viewers shouldn’t be disappointed!