‘Jungle Cruise:’ not quite the ride expected

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (‘Jumanji’) and Emily Blunt (‘A Quiet Place’) star in ‘Jungle Cruise.” The film falls flat, and does little more than advertise the ride that inspired it. // Photo courtesy of Frank Masi Disney

Our Take: 2 Stars

With Disney ramping up production on its next theme park inspired film, The Haunted Mansion, and with the announcement of a sequel film, The Technique takes a look at the recently released “Jungle Cruise.”

Announced back in 2004, “Jungle Cruise” was shelved for over a decade before being brought back from the dead in 2015. Over the next few years a strong cast of Hollywood A-listers came on board, and Disney pumped a budget of almost $200 million into the production, making it one of the most expensive films of all time and breathing new life into the project. Following its joint release in theaters and on Disney+, “Jungle Cruise” has been received somewhat favorably, and has spearheaded Disney’s new joint-release model.

But is it actually good? The short answer is “kinda.” It is an exceedingly average film, and while it does have some positives, they don’t overcome the glaring errors in its screenplay and in its conception.

There are certainly pros to this film, namely its cast. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson essentially reprises his role from the new “Jumanji” franchise films as Frank Wolff, a charismatic and somewhat sketchy steamboat captain who makes his living taking European tourists up the Amazon river. Frank bites off more than he can chew when he agrees to take Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt, “A Quiet Place”) and her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall, “Bad Education”) up the river to find a fabled tree whose flowers can be used to cure any illness. Lily, portrayed by the incredibly talented Blunt, provides a powerful foil for Frank, and the two develop a complicated and entertaining relationship. As witty banter slings back and forth between Johnson and Blunt, the chemistry between the two provides the best aspect of the film, and their strong performances outweigh the questionably written dialogue that they are speaking.

Thrown into the mix is Whitehall, who enhances the humor and adds a little bit of heart to the film, helped along by his natural humor and delivery. MacGregor is a smaller and rather different character from Whitehall’s travel series “Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father,” but MacGregor’s travel experience seems to be inspired by Whitehall’s father in the show.

With $200 million to spend, the sky is the limit for a company with the resources that Disney has. Unfortunately, this film is all pizzazz and has very little substance. Its problems are fundamental and go back to the very conception of the idea. “Jungle Cruise” is little more than a thinly veiled advertisement for one of the most historic and popular attractions of the Disney Theme Parks, and the film never rises to the creative level or production value of the movies that made Disney a juggernaut in the film and entertainment industry. A good idea for a movie is not “something like that Disneyland ride,” and a good movie is not made with the sole purpose of advertising.

Audiences can feel this when watching the movie. With a plot stolen from “Pirates of the Caribbean,’’ another theme park ride, although a more effective adaptation, and a lazy production, the film falls flat and feels very uninspired. It is evident that, beyond the dedication and hard work of the cast, not a lot of effort went into the production of the film. Every scene relies heavily on its actors to overcome the shortcomings of the script, and despite filming in Hawaii, the use of CGI is ever-present and distracting.

In many ways, “Jungle Cruise” is reminiscent of the ride that inspired it. Things may look exciting and vibrant, but the façade is painfully obvious. A moment between Whitehall’s MacGregor and Johnson’s Frank provides a touch of heart and inclusivity, but the filmmakers refuse to commit to more than an allusion to MacGregor’s homosexuality, and contain any mention of it into one small and easily removable scene.

All in all, much like an amusement park ride, the film is enjoyable enough on the surface, but has structural issues all the way to the foundation that even a wonderful cast cannot entirely remedy.