Skip to main content

Gosh, there’s a lot of you, isn’t there?

Jungle Cruise
(2021)

(SPOILERS) If anything gives the lie to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl being a piece-of-cake no-brainer, it’s this. Although, the floundering of The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland might also have served as pertinent pointers. Disney evidently understood the right kind of production formula at the outset – start with some decent writers – but proceeded to go awry as soon as they opted for an ancient curse (hey-ho, Curse of the Black Pearl), the director pick and… Dwayne Johnson.

Because casting Dwayne Johnson means your movie instantly becomes a Dwayne Johnson movie, not a Jungle Cruise movie, with all the mediocre performative and posturing baggage that goes with him. Johnny Depp may have been a one-off, once-in-a-generation, out-of-a-hat actor-character fit (albeit, one might claim similar of Robert Downey Jr and Tony Stark), but responding to that challenge with such an undeniably lazy choice as the Rock was not the solution.

Like Red Notice, this is another Johnson treasure hunt. And like Red Notice, there’s a twist involving his character. And likewise, it’s one you don’t expect because Johnson’s range is so restricted, you assume what you see is what you get. Johnson’s Frank Wolff – really cursed conquistador Francisco Lopez de Heredia – has a penchant for terrible puns (a feature of the ride, it seems), but all this proves is that Johnson’s intentional bad delivery is exactly the same as his normal delivery.

Because this is Johnson all the way, there’s no opportunity to build a tangible Jungle Cruise world (yes, I know); it’s junk. Also, true to form from a guy who starred in an SNL-sketch as the designer of a child-molesting robot and joshes to minors about eating them during press junkets, Frank makes jokes about dead kids. Cos it’s a Disney movie. We’re also supposed to care enough about him that we’re all for Lilly sacrificing the last McGuffin-riddled petal to revive him. As if.

Emily Blunt is, naturally, playing a super-capable progressive feminist botanist who wears pants – oh, the hilarity – and is inspired by Indiana Jones (or inspired? Jungle Cruise is set in 1916). But this isn’t interested in diligence to period in the manner of Indy, or even in the loose-fit manner of The Curse of the Black Pearl. This one’s a lark, to be treated as such, so the attempts to invest in the adventuring aspect come across as desperate and ill-fitting. Plus, Raiders had a meaningful McGuffin. Pirates had an irresistible protagonist. This has neither.

Lily: It will change medicine forever. The beginning of a scientific revolution.

The Tears of the Moon, a flower with miraculous healing properties – shades of Medicine Man – isn’t necessarily a terribly unlikely idea (no worse than med beds) but it’s an inherently doomed one; we know Lily’s research yielded nothing; locking the flower away in a vault at the end, courtesy of the Rockefeller institute, might have added a smidge of verisimilitude. But only a degree.

The conquistador teaser isn’t bad, actually; if Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter, and a few other movies that don’t have Liam Neeson in them) had made an entire movie about them, it would surely have been more worthwhile than this. Nothing he’s done hitherto suggests an aptitude for light-touch comedy-adventure, and nothing he does in Jungle Cruise suggests it either. Johnson and Collet-Serra would have been better suited to making Shane Black’s Doc Savage script (they’ve since collaborated on Black Adam).

Location filming in Hawaii fails to inhibit the general CGI sheen of the production, adding to the overall fakery. It isn’t as horrific as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (regular Serra DP Flavio Martínez Labiano is better than that), but combined with over-designed, over-pristine period costuming, the combined effect is of watching a promotional tie-in rather than a movie. Yeah, funny that. It has that horrid, resistible quality of assuming it’s an irresistible, fun-filled jollity (Wild Wild West, Hook). We’re more Stephen Sommers than vintage Spielberg.

Blunt is fine, but she’s too much of an actress to go the extra mile for a star-wattage part like this. It needed either a Goldie Hawn type, or to double down and deliver a proper Indiana Jones romp rather than an apologetically lightweight lark. Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim has the right idea, but without a director putting him to good use, he just comes over as frantically mugging. Paul Giamatti is a past master at frantic mugging, of course, so he’s right at home. Édgar Ramirez plays villain Aguirre – based on the Spaniard searching for El Dorado – straight, and he and his men are rendered very much in the Pirates style.

Jack Whitehall is likeable, which is something – they might have cast the wretched James Corden – as Disney’s second “officially” out character, which means he’s obliged to struggle through a gay-by-committee campfire confessional with a very understanding Rock; notably, there’s sexism and homophobia in this plastic period, but zero racism, owing to the miraculous powers of presentism.

Whitehall has, it seems, received some criticism for not actually being gay, but it wouldn’t be a Disney attempt at woke-sense if they didn’t get – hilariously – bashed for ineptitude in dotting every line and crossing every T in the wokester rule book. To his credit, Whitehall is going for a slightly camp pitch that suits the picture’s very broad tone (if you can ascribe it such a thing, as that sounds intentional), and even gets away with “Frank, would you like to bite down on my stick?” A line that would have caused Kenneth Williams to rupture.

Mostly, though, lame comedy and inept mugging abounds. There’s even a Last Crusade gag that exemplifies how even Spielberg, when he was tiring of Indy, was way more on the ball. There’s a CGI jaguar, who’s at least more real than the Rock. Somewhere along the way, Glen Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa, I Love You, Phillip Morris, Focus) mis-stepped, as did Michael Green (although his record is much spottier). He’s attached to the commissioned sequel; I presume Jungle Cruise wowed on Disney+, as it’s inconceivable a USD200m price tag movie, one that only made fractionally more than that at the box office, would usually merit such treatment.


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.