What do you get when you take Brendan Fraser’s Mummy movies, add a dash of The African Queen, a generous portion of Pirates of the Caribbean, and the tiniest sprinkling of Avatar? Well, even though Dwayne Johnson is basically twice the size of Fraser, he still gets his own version of a British love interest that knows way too much on a particular subject and her affable brother who is solely around for comic relief in a film that just feels familiar from start to finish, Jungle Cruise.
Johnson plays Frank Wolff, aka Skipper, the owner, and proprietor of a rundown jungle cruise boat. In debt to his ears to his main competitor Nilo (Paul Giamatti with a ridiculous French accent that comes and goes), Frank stumbles upon the Houghton siblings, Lily (Emily Blunt) and MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who have stolen a key artifact from Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons in another ridiculous accent) needed to track down a long lost tree whose petals can cure all ailments. Lily, a botanist who is shunned by British upper society due to being a woman, is determined to find the tree at all cost and convinces Frank to take them into the heart of the Amazon to find it, despite dealing with the elements, Prince Joachim on their heels, a tribe of cannibals and a group of cursed Spanish soldiers, long dead before being reanimated, led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez).
If this synopsis sounds familiar it’s because it should. This film does not attempt to hide the influences it borrows liberally from, you can see every twist coming a mile away, except perhaps for one big reveal with Johnson towards the end of the film that’s just so preposterous you won’t believe they actually went there. Johnson’s Frank might not be as goofy as Fraser’s Rick O’ Connell from the Mummy, but they still are written so similarly, you could buy them as brothers. And Blunt is literally channeling Rachel Weisz’s Evelyn, it’s that obvious. Jack Whitehall does manage to bring a goofy side to his MacGregor more than John Hannah does in the Mummy films and it’s a goofiness that suits the comedian’s natural cadence quite well. The main reason why Jungle Cruise works to any degree is the chemistry of these 3.
But the subtitle to the headline of this article could have been ‘Land of Outrageous Accents’ as Giamatti and Plemons are completely hamming it up and happily cashing a check in this film. Plemons’ Prince Joachim is supposedly the son of Kaiser Wilhelm the former King of Prussia in this film, it is set in 1917 after all, but he plays Joachim like a deranged lunatic with a severe childish personality. And Giamatti’s performance is so ridiculous that it may almost be worth the price of admission on its own. Even Dwayne Johnson’s accent comes into question the more we learn about his character.
Jaume Collet-Serra does a decent job wrangling all these elements behind the camera for the most part, and despite the runtime of just over 2 hours, the film doesn’t drag in too many areas. The effects work, especially the doomed Spanish Soldiers, do have a very dated/overly CGI feel to them that makes them feel very plastic and fake, but thankfully they aren’t on the screen for very long, like say Pirates of the Caribbean 2&3 where they overwhelmed the films. The action sequences are fun, egged on by Johnson who can do these big action set pieces in his sleep by now, and the property damage is aplenty as whole docks are destroyed and underground temples are excavated. All in a day’s work for Johnson.
In the end, despite how familiar and predictable it all is, the film manages to hold water thanks to its main cast and the excellent chemistry they have on screen. Johnson, Blunt, and Whitehall are a winning team and deserve a possibly better-written follow-up. But for Jungle Cruise I suggest you unplug your brain, whip up a giant bowl of popcorn and settle in. It’s better if you don’t think about it too hard.
- Release Date: 7/30/2021