Let’s get this out of the way right now: There’s not a single original idea in Disney’s latest theme-park-inspired feature.
That three screenwriters are listed is astounding for a couple of reasons — it took three people to “write” this?! Should we refer to them as “writers” or “plunderers,” as they obviously cobbled this pastiche together from myriad well-known sources? Perhaps it’s time to come up with a new designation. Meta-
citers? But I digress ...
Regardless, I had more fun with it than I thought I would. The very definition of a summer movie, it goes down easy with a large bucket of buttery popcorn and sugary soda, engaging throughout. Credit handsome production design, a surprising sense of narrative momentum and the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, both having a blast and obviously enjoying each other’s company.
Johnson is Frank Wolff, the pun-slinging captain of the decrepit but reliable La Quila, a riverboat that provides tours of the Amazon River in Brazil. Our introduction to him consists of one dad joke after another, each a groaner but effective thanks to the actor’s innate charm. The crusty captain is hired by Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall), to take them upriver to find the Tears of the Moon, a mythical plant that supposedly has the capability to cure all diseases and lift all curses.
As you would expect, it’s far from an easy journey, as they must contend with hungry cannibals, vicious piranhas and raging rapids, as well as mystical beings with supernatural powers. Oh, and then there’s the matter of Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), the son of Kaiser Wilhelm, who also happens to be after the Tears of the Moon for far more nefarious reasons.
(Note: If there any acting teachers with students who need to learn the dangers of overacting, have them see this and compare the work of Plemons and Paul Giamatti, who’s on board as a snarling ship owner after Wolff’s boat. I’m not sure who’s the biggest ham here, but I’ll give anyone $20 if they can identify Giamatti’s broad, garbled accent.)
A great deal of action occurs on the trip, something director Jaume Collet-Serra is incapable of rendering with visual coherency. With his camera too close to the performers, scenes of hand-to-hand combat are a blur, while larger set pieces are undone by a far-too-rapid cutting style that creates chaos rather than clarity. I want to see what’s going on rather than have the action suggested by movements that are truncated or interrupted by incessant editing.
Still, “Cruise” avoids the trap that plagues nearly all the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, as Collet-Serra at least knows not to overstay his welcome. Whereas the Johnny Depp swashbucklers slogged toward tedium, this feature knows when enough is enough, actually leaving us wanting more.
Of course, any future adventures would require Johnson and Blunt to both be on board. They are an absolute delight, as the fun they’re having proves infectious.
There’s never been a better time for a piece of well-made escapist entertainment, and “Jungle Cruise” proudly answers that call.
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