'Jungle Cruise': A crowd-pleasing fantasy, but it lacks originality

By Troy Ribeiro

Film: Jungle Cruise (Showing in Theatres)

Duration: 127 minutes

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcon, Dani Rovira and Quim Gutierrez.

IANS Rating: ***

Depending on your absorption power, the narrative of director Jaume Collet-Sera's 'Jungle Cruise' is as simulated as the riverboat amusement ride in Disneyland.

The set-up is promising. It lures you in to take a back seat, to witness the adventure trip into the jungles of the Amazon. Staged in the early 1900s, in a typical Indiana Jones style, Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), an eccentric, adventurous, and honorable botanist steals an artefact that would lead her to the 'Lagrimas de Cristal' tree, which is also known as - "Tears of the Moon." She does so with the hope of harnessing its power for modern medicine.

The legend says that one petal from the tree will heal anything. It can cure any illness or break any curse.

Lily travels to Brazil along with her prissy brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), where she meets Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), the friendly tour guide-cum-captain of the barely sea-worthy steamboat who reluctantly ferries them on their quest.

The first half of the narrative coasts on the charms of the lead pair and their light-footed visual misadventures. The screwball banter between the duo promises some exciting moments ahead. But alas, with the overtly complicated backstory and poorly executed visuals, the plot crumbles like an over-buttered cookie.

The narrative gets disappointing especially after Lily gets nightmares of Prince Joachim, an ambitious German royal who is chasing them with the same motive. Following this, with metal cranking and squeaking in the rough waters at the "Butter Churn" rapids, Frank dramatically navigates their boat. Instead of excitement, you feel a little jaded as the entire exercise seems staid, mechanical, and disappointing.

After that, the film hits nadir with the convoluted storyline, histrionics, and overtly ambitious visual effects especially with digital snakes slithering, bees, and vines capturing the pursuing Spaniards, dragging them back into the jungle. The supernatural elements and curses feel superfluous and tacked on.

At times, it also appears to have a hangover of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise. Also, while reflecting on the film, you realize that at an early stage, we are told - Dr Lily can't swim, but later, in an underwater sequence with Frank, she swims gracefully. This only goes to show that the writers have underrated their audience.

Dwayne Johnson delivers a charming performance as the gimmicky, loveable trickster who offers cut-rate jungle cruises embellished with faked dangers and corny puns. He is aptly paired with Emily Blunt as the agile-footed Dr Lily, whom he fondly calls- "Pants," because she wears one all the time.

Jack Whitehall delivers a strong performance as the pampered dandy MacGregor, who thinks it is not dinner unless you are wearing a dinner jacket. He does draw in a few laughs, but they seem lost in the narrative.

Edgar Ramirez as the conquistador Aguirre who betrayed the indigenous guardians of the tree, and Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim with his large submarine, both as villains lack lustre.

Overall, 'Jungle Cruise' is a fun, crowd-pleasing, farfetched fantasy that lacks originality.



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