[Screen It]


(2021) (Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A woman hires a WWI era riverboat captain to transport her and her brother up the Amazon in search of a tree with legendary healing properties.

It's 1916 London and Lily Houghton (EMILY BLUNT) wants to get her hands on a museum artifact that she believes will lead her to the Tears of the Moon, a legendary tree long rumored to have supernatural healing powers. But since few women are taken seriously, she has her high society brother, MacGregor (JACK WHITEHALL), make her presentation for her. When that doesn't go well, she decides to steal the ancient arrowhead herself, something German military man Prince Joachim (JESSE PLEMONS) likewise desires, although he intends to use it to win WWI.

With the artifact in hand, Lily and MacGregor travel to the Amazon in search of Nilo (PAUL GIAMATTI) who can provide her a boat to travel upriver, following in the footsteps of 16th-century conquistador Aguirre (EDGAR RAMIREZ) who was in search of the same tree. Instead, Lily meets tourist boat captain Frank Wolff (DWAYNE JOHNSON) who cons his way into convincing her that he's the right man for the job, and brings his pet jaguar Proxima along for the trip.

With Joachim on their tails, Frank, Lily, and MacGregor head up the Amazon, clashing as they do so, unsure if they'll find the tree or are instead just on a wild goose chase.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

There's a moment in the latest movie to be based on a Disney park ride where a character incredulously asks, "What fresh hell is this?" Had I been plopped down into the theater at that exact spot in the film without knowing what source material was being used, I would have guessed it would be the "It's a Small World" ride.

After all, I probably muttered that exact line -- and more -- when I was subjected to that attraction more than three decades ago and endured its uber-slow progression through its water-based course of wooden animatronics and the infuriatingly incessant theme song.

Thankfully, that's not the case as that line is uttered in "Jungle Cruise," the latest flick in an increasingly long line of such ride to movie attractions that include the likes of "The Country Bears," "Tomorrowland" and, of course, the biggest of the bunch, "Pirates of the Caribbean." To be fully transparent, I don't recall anything about the "JC" ride at Disney World (beyond an animatronic hippo rising out of the water), but I'm guessing there probably wasn't much to the story used.

Accordingly, screenwriters Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa likely pretty much had carte blanche to create one and decided to lift elements from "Pirates" as well as the likes of "Romancing the Stone" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in doing so.

The result, while hardly great and obviously not original, is nevertheless a moderately entertaining, somewhat old-fashioned bit of escapism entertainment. Buoyed by good performances from Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in the "they get on each other's nerves, but will they get together" lead characters, the film should engage younger viewers while not boring any adults along for the ride, so to speak.

The story revolves around Blunt's Dr. Lily Houghton, an adventurous scientist more than capable of handling herself in pretty much any situation, although the sexism of the mid-1910s means she must rely on her upper-class brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), to request the borrowing of a museum artifact that could lead them to the legendary Tears of the Moon tree whose petals can reportedly cure any and all ills.

When that doesn't go as planned, Lily simply steals the pivotal arrowhead. And she does so just before the film's villain -- Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons, hamming it up) -- gets his hands on it for purposes of Germany winning the war, much like Major Arnold Ernst Toht decades later in "Raiders."

She then travels to the Amazon -- with her brother in tow for comedic effect -- where she must enlist a local to help her find what she's looking for. Seeing a way to make a quick buck or two, Captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) talks his way into being that man, and the two naturally clash while in the wild, much like what occurred with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner's characters in "RTS." And as occurred in "Pirates," they encounter some reanimated, supernatural characters -- in this case, 16th-century conquistadors led by Aguirre (a barely recognizable Édgar Ramírez who's pretty much wasted, much like Paul Giamatti in a small role) -- who also want to get their centuries-old hands on the same thing Lily is after.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra keeps things moving at a brisk pace including some old-fashioned bits of action early on. But it's the performances by Johnson and Blunt and the evolving chemistry between their characters that makes the film work. Granted, there's nothing new with such a relationship that we haven't seen before, but it works as intended and keeps the flick engaging for viewers.

And as long as you don't mind the flick aping bits and pieces of the aforementioned pics and don't expect it to be anywhere as good as those, you might just enjoy taking this "Jungle Cruise." It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed July 27, 2021 / Posted July 30, 2021

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