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Jungle Cruise

***
2021

‘…while the result is well-upholstered, it’s also as generic and uninspired as the title…’

Disney’s latest vehicle for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Emily Blunt pits them against each other as a bickering couple a la Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in John Huston’s The African Queen. That’s as good a reference point as any, since Jaume Collet-Serra’s film is based, not on a book or a play, but on a ride that’s been part of the fixtures at Disneyland for decades. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride previously made the transition from dressed hydraulics to cinema screen, and was the clear template for this Jungle Cruise, and while the result is well-upholstered, it’s also as generic and uninspired as the title.

Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is on the trail of a magical flower; she enlists the help of Frank Wolf (The Rock) who has a ridiculously nimble steam-ship ready to coast through the uncharted waters of the Amazon. In pursuit follows Teutonic aristocrat Prince Joachim (mad Jesse Plemons) and his submarine crew; whoever gets to the Tears of the Moon first will have to lift a curse placed on explorer Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) and his Spanish Conquistadors many years previously….

And in a mild plot twist, Wolf is revealed mid-film to be one of the original Conquistadors. Having spent a good hour building up The Rock as a hard-bitten boat-captain as a foil for Blunt’s predictably prissy heroine, the screenplay eventually asks too much of the genial talents of Johnson. Can he really be an eternal Conquistador seeking revenge AND a salty sea-captain who uses animatronics and old-pals in-disguise to fleece tourists? Such shonky will-this-do? characterisation considerably weakens the odd-couple character comedy aspired to, but at least the action set-pieces are sprightly and well done.

Jungle Cruise needed a few tough meetings to hash out some careless writing, but what it delivers instead is a lecture for kids on the importance of being gay via this weeks’ British fop du jour and imported carrot Jack Whitelaw as Lily’s brother. This year’s Russell Brand, Whitelaw’s mugging is a permanent strain to watch, and siphons yet more air out of the balloon that Blunt and Johnson are trying to inflate. The stars at least bring their A-game, but advance reports of chemistry are sadly over-stated; they act like they’re under separate bell-jars, and it’s a shock when they suddenly share the frame with each other.

Disney have had a wretched rude-awakening during the pandemic era, knocked scrambling from their position as top studio, and looking vulnerable in that the profits for their movies and theme park attractions depend on packing punters in at a time when many people want anything but such proximity. A high-profile falling out with star Scarlett Johansson on the week of Jungle Cruise’s release won’t inspire confidence either; while Jungle Cruise is an amiable slice of retro-cheese, it’s a filler in the place of a tent-pole, and unlikely to inspire many subscriptions as a less-than-must-see proposition.

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      • Hahaha!

        And I fell on the floor when I heard (for the first time, though, it seems, it’s been on-air since the Superbowl) the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” for a product by Mercari. Apparently, the song was also used in a U.S. Target retail spot in 2007 (?).

        Sacrilege. Not since “Revolution” in that Nike spot all those years ago. But when you don’t own your catalog, what can you do. At least Paul’s making some pocket change! (Too lazy to look up the legal linage these days; I think the Jackson estate sold off Northern Songs?).

        Hopefully, Wally Holmes is making money off it’s movie use (he deserves it) — and it’s great to see people discover a pretty cool song for the first time and learn about his rich career.

        • Blanket licences do confuse the matter; picking songs for BBC shows, very few songs are not included. Remember the solemn promises that the Beastie Boys music would not be used for commercial licensing? Stood strong until 2012’s utterly abysmal Fun Size came along. So the only rule is that there are no rules…

      • Hey, when will a film give props to Frankie Ford? Let’s start an online petition to get “Sea Cruise” into a Russell Brand ocean comedy! (Well, actually, Huey “Piano” Smith!)

  1. Wow, as in hold your horses. I thought the chemistry between Blunt and Johnson was terrific and Whitehall though initially irritating turned out to be an interesting good egg. When I saw it last night with an audience we were all roaring with laughter. In adventure pictures leading characters transition with ease. Indiana Jones in the first picture in the series goes from being shocked by a flirting student to receiving a sock in the jaw from an old flame so I had no trouble with Johnson in whatever capacity he was employed.

    • So you’re happy that he’s a vengeful Conquistador spirit AND a tough, insult-comic boat captain?

    • Yes. There’s a definite Indiana Jones vibe, which more (younger) people relate to than The African Queen mentions, which popped into my head upon my first seeing the trailer. But isn’t Indiana Jones borrowing from The African Queen? And so it goes!

      In my talking to someone about Jungle Cruise, they said, “Kurt Russell would have been great in the Rock’s part.” Hmmm, Yeah, I guess if we think about Big Trouble in Little China . . . only on a boat on a river . . . okay, I see their point.

      • I take your point, they all cannibalize each other. I was quite surprised that Dwayne pulled this off, he clearly has a deft comedic talent, as he proved when he was formerly known as The Rock, that old eyebrow-raising irony he employed.

  2. You should treat yourself to a good film once in a while, y’know. This looks horrible. Do always love a good insult though. “This year’s Russell Brand” is going in the joke book.

  3. I want to see Disney destroyed in my life time. Harsh I know. But seeing what they were in the 80’s and what they are now, it’s like comparing Lassie to Cujo….

    • Their reply to Scarlett Johannson’s lawsuit suggests they think they have a monopoly on pandemic angst and a justified in readjusting contracts in their favour. I think that won’t be a good look for them.

      • I read part of the WSJ’s article before the paywall slammed down.

        The problem is, Disney has been doing things like this for years and has gotten away with it.

        • All studios have been at it, but Disney have gone further out of their way to make money and trash others. So any return to normality under current circumstances looks likely to blow up like an exploding cigar in their face. Soon everyone will be examining their contracts…

    • I thought ‘imported carrot’ was harsh, but you’re right, I may have stepped over a line…

  4. When I saw the trailer, it seemed like par for the course for the Rock. But how on earth did they ever get Emily Blunt to agree to star in a movie so obviously beneath her?

    Too snarky? Perhaps. But it was my honest thought.

    You almost had me when you brought up Katie and Bogie, but this is one I’ll never get around to if I have my way.

    • You do have your way, and can avoid this movie. Like you, I thought that Emily Blunt had better things to do, but to be fair, she and The Rock carry the film. But it’s no African Queen, more like cosplaying at Bogie and Hepburn. Not one for purists, or indeed anyone over 12…

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