• Nate Adams

Review: Disney's 'Jungle Cruise' goes overboard


Courtesy of Disney

After years of repurposing their animated films into live action hybrids, Disney is on the prowl for another homegrown franchise, born from an amusement park attraction not far removed from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” saga. The studio’s latest, “Jungle Cruise” is a sinking vessel riddled with lousy CGI creations, Dwayne Johnson’s cringe worthy dad jokes and an entire ensemble desperately trying to recreate the magic of “The Mummy” series. Remember when Disney movies were fun? “Jungle Cruise” has nothing going on and an empty screenplay running on autopilot and what should have been a slam dunk (it only needed to conjure half the energy of a “National Treasure” movie) runs out of steam. Not even Jesse Plemons hamming it up as a sniveling, thick accented German madman steers this cruise on the right path.


“Jungle Cruise” has all the ingredients for a perfect Saturday matinee: a swashbuckling premise, supernatural elements, a spunky riverboat captain and a proper British woman searching the heart of the jungle for a prized artifact. But director Jaume Collet-Serra, who injects the film with enough visual flair to distract from how abysmal everything else is, along with five (yes, five) screenwriters, never ups the stakes and makes audiences really care about the narrative. James Newton Howard’s nostalgic score provides a serotonin boost when you least expect it, signaling this Disney product might have benefited from a more free-spirited attitude.


Of course, the key in any film set on the Amazon river in England, 1916 is what our heroes are trying to find. In this case, it’s dubbed as the “Tears of the Moon” which is basically the Fountain of Youth, a nod the screenwriters don’t even try to acknowledge. Emily Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton, a scholar not recognized by her peers because she’s a girl (adversity the screenplay only briefly addresses), leaving her bumbling buffoon of a brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) to do the heavy pitching. Supposedly the Tears of the Moon can cure diseases and wield unforsaken power but nobody in 400 years has been able to find it.


Enter Johnson’s Frank Wolff, a sea captain who spends his days giving cheap river tours with elaborate pranks, hoaxes, and, uh, dad jokes. He’s hired for the journey-despite his claims Tears of the Moon can’t be found-with Plemons’ mustache twirling Prince Joachim (riding in a torpedo filled submarine, because why not?) on their heels. But like an amusement park ride you can’t depart, “Jungle Cruise” doesn’t know when to quit. The only salvation lies in Blunt and Johnson’s charm. Together they don’t make “Jungle Cruise” worth jumping aboard, but they’re pros and at least keep the pace moving; the best sequence comes midway through the film when the duo has to fend off zombie-like crustaceans with snakes coming out of their eyes (poor Edgar Ramirez, he deserved better).


Alas, such jovial interactions are few and far between and “Jungle Cruise” becomes a laborious exercise (Whitehall’s MacGregor and his terribly unfunny one-liners were almost the death of me). Johnson has a massive fanbase in family entertainment and he should be enough to get audiences into seats on opening weekend, but even his charisma struggles to sell a movie that lacks the ingenuity and practical creativity of a three minute ride at Disneyland. Whereas “Pirates of the Caribbean” successfully spun off its own attraction and created an expansive universe with five movies, “Jungle Cruise” struggles to create one.


In other words, it sinks.


Grade: D+


JUNGLE CRUISE opens in theaters and debuts on Disney+ with premier access ($29.99) on Friday, July 30th.