Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.
If you are already predisposed to hate Disney and all that the mega-conglomerate stands for, the new "Jungle Cruise" is bound to rub you the wrong way. It's an over-stuffed, over-produced chaotic romp, that just seems to be full of excess (and CG) around every corner. However, with Emily Blunt and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson at the center of the mess, their friendly chemistry is just barely able to keep "Jungle Cruise" from straying completely off-course.
"Jungle Cruise" is based on the theme park ride of the same name...if you are a frequent visitor of Disney World in Orlando (like I am), you know that it's one of the main attractions in AdventureLand, the less well-liked (and more childish) water ride option next to The Pirates of the Caribbean, which itself was spun into a blockbuster movie franchise. It's clear that the purpose of "Jungle Cruise" is to not just make money, but to add some popularity to one of the theme park's oldest attractions. To put it into perspective, the original "skipper" on the Disney Land version of the ride was none other than Walt Disney himself.
Disney has been in the "optimization" of its theme park real estate for quite some time now...just look to EPCOT's World Showcase for recent examples (movies like "Coco," "Frozen," and the recent "Luca" originally existed so that they could "fill out" these lower-trafficked portions of Disney World). You have to put all of this aside if you're going to enjoy "Jungle Cruise" even in the least, which might be more than most "casual" fans are willing to do.
Emily Blunt stars as an explorer by the name of Lily Houghton, an Indiana Jane if there ever was one (the film gives more than one nod - or steals from? - the "Indiana Jones" films). She is seeking a sacred flower that has magical capabilities, and she finally has in her possession an artifact that will help her locate it deep in the Amazon jungle. Her flamboyant (and openly gay) brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) is in her tow, and the two need a steady riverboat Captain to guide them through the wild. They find instead Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a boat skipper and con-artist who sees this as an opportunity to make some cash. Things become a bit complicated when the villainous Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and his submarine (who brings a submarine to the Amazon?) troop are hot on Lily's trail, wanting the flower for their own.
The story is quite familiar, if not borrowed completely from other films of this type. Down the river a ways, there are some supernatural twists and turns that no one will see coming, and by the convoluted final third of the film, there is enough cartoonish, CG action and characters on-screen to make a "Transformers" movie blush, if it could. Edgar Ramirez stars as a long-lost Conquistador, whose curse is tied to the mysterious flower. And Paul Giamatti is painfully under-used as Italian mobster Nilo, who unlike the main Jesse Plemons baddie, has some delicious fun with the role, knowing what sort of film he's in.
There are more than a few nods to hardcore Disney-goers familiar with the ride. Skipper Frank is full of puns, as are the Disney boat captains on the ride (the reference to "the back-side of water" made this Disneyphile chuckle with nostalgia). There is also a character in the film named Trader Sam (Veronica Falcón), a name that shows up on the Jungle Cruise ride and which also adorns one of the coolest bars in all of Disney World ("Trader Sam's" bar is tucked away in a corner of Disney's Polynesian Resort).
It becomes a bit long and grating, but the fun banter between Blunt and Johnson make the movie worth watching...kids by the way, will love it. I was also impressed with Jack Whitehall, who at first is a caricature but who comes into his own and adds a fun element to the proceedings.
"Jungle Cruise" is maybe as good a movie based on a theme park ride can be. It's jumbled at times and a bit topsy-turvy, but there were some unexpected laugh-out-loud moments whenever "Pants" and "Skippy" started ripping into one another...they're characters you wouldn't mind seeing again. This may not be as good as the original "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie was, but that's the true curse of "Jungle Cruise": Always in the shadow of its cooler counterpart, but with a unique and undeniable charm all its own.
Genre: Adventure, Action, Comedy.
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Paul Giamatti, Jesse Plemons, Veronica Falcón.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Commuter," "The Shallows," "Run All Night," "Non-Stop," "House of Wax").
"Jungle Cruise" is in theaters and available for Premium purchase on Disney+ on Friday, July 30th, 2021.