Jungle Cruise

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Jungle Cruise
dir Jaume Collet-Serra
scr Michael Green, John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
prd John Davis, John Fox, Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcia
with Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Edgar Ramirez, Paul Giamatti, Andy Nyman, Sulem Calderon, Raphael Alejandro, Quim Gutierrez, Dani Rovira, Philipp Maximilian
release US/UK 30.Jul.21
21/US Disney 2h07

plemons ramirez giamatti

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Jungle Cruise
Disney turns to another theme park ride for a summer blockbuster that sails on the fizzy chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Stir in the overwrought effects-heavy mayhem of another ride-turned-movie Pirates of the Caribbean, but thankfully that's upstaged by characters who are entertaining enough to keep us laughing. And the film is also jam-packed with witty gags aimed at the ride's fans and rain forest aficionados.
In 1916, archaeologist Lily (Blunt) is ignored due to her gender, so she gets her hapless brother MacGregor (Whitehall) to launch an Amazon expedition to find a mythical flower with curative powers. In Brazil, they hire beefy jokester river guide Frank (Johnson), who's in trouble with his boss (Giamatti). Then as they set off they are immediately challenged by Euro-prince Joachim (Plemons), who wants the flower for himself. For supernatural assistance, Joachim awakens conquistador Aguirre (Ramirez) and his 400-year-old goons. And on this quest, there's another major adventure around each bend in the river.
Director Collet-Serra never lets the pace lag, constantly flinging characters from elaborately silly slapstick into properly perilous situations. Thankfully there are also some quiet sequences that deepen characters and allow everyone to catch their breath. Imagery is outrageously heightened with over-the-top effects, some of which work better than others. But we have a lot more fun with the constant barbed banter between Lily and Frank. And quieter, smarter moments catch us off guard, including astute comments about colonialism, sexism and homophobia.

Johnson and Blunt are a terrific double act, bouncing gleefully off each other with insults, challenges and emotion as they face a range of rather insane obstacles. The actors obviously relish the Indiana Jones-style physicality of each set-piece. And Whitehall completes the trio perfectly, a strong character who takes the film's most resonant journey. Plemons also has a great time as the sinister, simpering baddie. Ramirez has his moments, when not consumed by effects. And so does Calderon as a no-nonsense tribal chief.

It's almost a shame to see so much great material swamped with cartoonishly digital overload, including some virtual settings that aren't very interesting. Grounding these sequences in more realistic locations would have made the script pop even more strongly, both funnier and more pointed. But if it has to pander to the effects fans, at least this is a smarter and much more hilarious romp than expected. And its cast is so strong that we don't want it to end. Hopefully they'll take another cruise soon.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 25.Jul.21

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