2021, PG-13, 127 min. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcón.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 30, 2021
It’s easy to feel cynical about Disney, which has hoovered up Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar rights in the past decade alone, and the stranglehold it has on the movies and television put in front of our eyeballs. And it’s easier yet to roll those eyeballs at a movie that derives its name and raison d’etre from a theme park ride – I certainly did. But it was Walt Disney I kept thinking of while watching Jungle Cruise, and how comfortably this family(ish) film might fit in the studio’s vault of lightly corny, live-action adventure yarns of yore.
That “ish” is a nod to the not-negligible amount of violence that accompanies a boilerplate story about a botanist (Blunt, sparky as ever) and her puny brother (Whitehall) who hire a wisecracking steamboat captain (Johnson) to traverse the Amazon River in 1916 in search of a mythic tree with supposed healing capacities. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, an old hand at horror (Orphan, House of Wax), earns the film’s PG-13 rating with regular, jolting scares and macabre imagery, including risen-from-the-dead conquistadors reanimated by snakes, bees, and tree branches. But the artificiality of the sets – foamcore-fake by design, one imagines, in homage to the film’s theme park origins – takes the edge off of Jungle Cruise’s grimmer moments. And besides, could anything go truly wrong with the Rock at the wheel?
There’s another way Jungle Cruise feels like a throwback, and that’s in how its leads recall the megawatt stars of the old studio system, scruffing middling material up by the neck with a wink and a smile. Dwayne Johnson may not be the world’s most nuanced actor, but he’s a marvelous showman. His and co-star Emily Blunt’s combined “it” factor transcends the sillier stretches of this somewhat forgettable but still chuckling good-times ride.