Jungle Cruise review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Édgar Ramírez, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcón
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 127 min
Opens : 29 July 2021 (Sneaks 28 July)
Rating : PG13

“Weird Al” Yankovic has a song called “Skipper Dan,” a melancholic tale of a Juilliard grad who must settle for being a Disney theme park cast member, playing the skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride. It’s a song about how following one’s dreams can often end in soul-crushing tedium, something this critic certainly knows nothing about. Anyway, we’re getting an upgrade from Skipper Dan to Skipper Dwayne in this movie based on said theme park ride.

It is 1916. English botanist Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is in search of the fabled Tears of the Moon, a tree deep in the Amazon jungle which has petals said to cure any ailment. Lily’s brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) would much rather live a luxurious existence but is dragged along on the expedition by his sister. Arriving in Brazil, they come across Skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who gives river tours on his beat-up steamboat La Quila and is armed with corny one-liners. Frank is not above a bit of grifting and deception to get by, and behind on his payments to harbourmaster Nilo (Paul Giamatti), jumps at the chance to ferry Lily and McGregor when he finds out they are rich. Also hunting for the Tears of the Moon is Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), an obsessive German aristocrat who takes a submarine into the Amazon. The Houghton siblings and Frank must battle all manner of obstacles, including undead Conquistadors led by the ruthless Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez).

Jungle Cruise is a throwback and one that a certain section of moviegoers will find welcome. The poster is deliberately evocative of Drew Struzan’s classic painted movie posters, though it isn’t actually created by him. This movie is a throwback in that it’s a period adventure movie, but also a throwback to a time before Disney owned intellectual property like Marvel and Star Wars and before they were regularly remaking their animated films. Disney’s most successful attempt at turning a theme park attraction into a potential film franchise was with Pirates of the Caribbean, which Jungle Cruise bears many similarities to. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, known for directing Liam Neeson-starring thrillers like Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and The Commuter, aims to recapture the spirit of those rip-roaring adventures. Flavio Labiano’s cinematography is textured and warm, while James Newton Howard provides a rousing score. There is some haunting horror movie-adjacent imagery, especially the one undead Conquistador who is covered in honeycombs and bees, Candyman-style.

Emily Blunt puts in a wonderful starring turn, as a spirited woman who has been rejected from her chosen field based on being a woman. There are notes of studio-ordered “strong woman protagonist,” but Blunt transcends that with an energetic, committed turn. Jesse Plemons plays against type, channelling Christoph Waltz as a power-mad royal, making for an entertaining villain.

Adventure stories are often intrinsically tied to a fundamentally colonialist worldview: the hero is often a European or American man outrunning the spear-wielding savages. Sometimes, a village is in dire straits, and only the hero can save the primitive folk. One can’t help but cringe at such depictions, with movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom being straight-up racist. Jungle Cruise subverts this with its portrayal of indigenous Amazon tribespeople and seems to be very conscious of the uncomfortable colonial undertones that many movies in this genre possess, intentional or otherwise. We won’t give too much away, but there is a commendable attempt at addressing one of the more controversial elements of the ride.

Jungle Cruise can sometimes feel like a facsimile of a facsimile – it evokes Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones, which in turn were inspired by movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Jungle Cruise can either be taken as refreshing, given how different it is from the standard summer blockbuster one might get in 2021, or somewhat stale, given its old-fashioned sensibilities which have been processed through the Disney studio machine. It’s impossible to ignore how much this movie wants to be The Mummy (1999): Frank is analogous to Rick, Lily to Evelyn, McGregor to Jonathan and Aguirre to Imhotep. Alas, it’s some ways off from that. The midsection sags, and at 127 minutes, this feels a shade too long. The movie is filled with computer-generated animals, and one would think that after 2016’s Jungle Book, Disney would have mastered this art, but sometimes the animals can’t help but feel a little artificial.

Unfortunately, Dwayne Johnson is a major problem with this movie. Sure, he’s charismatic as always and can play a roguish adventure movie hero in his sleep, but he just doesn’t fit with the WWI-era setting and shares little romantic chemistry with Blunt, such that the love story subplot becomes actively uncomfortable. Frank is inspired by Humphrey Bogart’s steamboat captain character from The African Queen – this is Bogey if he ate 14 egg whites for breakfast and if his boat had a gym hidden somewhere. Johnson’s larger-than-life presence, which has served him well in many other roles, is distracting and doesn’t complement the setting or story. Perhaps someone like Pedro Pascal, Rodrigo Santoro or Oscar Isaac might have fit the role better. However, there is an excellent scene in the second act in which Frank’s intriguing backstory is revealed.

Summary: While somewhat derivative, Jungle Cruise will scratch that adventure movie itch for audiences who are starved of movies like Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone and The Mummy (1999). Emily Blunt showcases her strengths in a role that seems tailored for her, while Dwayne Johnson can’t help but feel out of place even as he brings his trademark charisma to bear. Jungle Cruise also reckons with uncomfortable, outmoded adventure movie tropes in a worthwhile way.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Point Break (2015)

For F*** Magazine

POINT BREAK

Director : Ericson Core
Cast : Édgar Ramírez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Scene and Some Violence)

Strap in, buckle up, insert alternate ways of securing oneself here – because things are about to get XTREME! *Guitar riff*. Johnny Utah (Bracey) is an FBI agent-in-training and a former motocross rider who left the sport after a tragic accident in his youth. When a team of elite thrill-seekers pulls off multiple heists around the world, targeting wealthy corporations, Utah proposes to his FBI instructor (Lindo) that he be allowed to investigate. Utah goes undercover, infiltrating the team and befriending its leader Bodhi (Ramírez), who explains that the daredevil exploits are actually about honouring nature. Utah falls in love with one of the team’s members, Samsara (Palmer), and British agent Angelo Pappas (Winstone) begins to doubt where Utah’s loyalties lie. As Bodhi’s gang pursues the ultimate rush, Utah is seduced back into the extreme sports world, but must put a stop to Bodhi’s criminal activities before he reaches the point of no return.
            Point Break is a remake of the 1991 film of the same name, which some would go so far as to call a classic. The original Point Break is by no means flawless and certainly has its goofy moments, but its iconic status is well-deserved and the characters of Johnny Utah and Bodhi, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze respectively, are certainly memorable. There’s no use beating around the bush: a Point Break remake is unnecessary, and doubly so because we already have The Fast and the Furious, which swapped out surfing for underground street racing. It is a touch ironic that Ericson Core, the cinematographer of the first Fast and Furious movie, is the director and cinematographer of the Point Break remake. It can be argued that if the characters had different names and this movie were called something other than Point Break, there would actually be less furore at it being a rip-off than there is now, given its “official” status.
            The original film revolved around surf culture and the remake ups the ante by throwing everything and the kitchen sink into it, showcasing feats of big-wave surfing, wingsuit flying, free rock climbing, dirt road motorcycling and sheer face snowboarding. The film has roped in top real-life extreme sports athletes to perform the stunts and granted, they do look impressive, but there is something very dated about this approach. It makes the film feel like a relic of the late 90s, when things like the X Games were taking off and everything felt like a Mountain Dew commercial. The daredevil stunts are strung together with a plot device in which Bodhi is looking to complete the “Ozaki 8”, a series of extreme sports trials. The film has a larger scope than the original, with filming taking place in Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Mexico, Venezuela, French Polynesia and India, but there are times when it feels more like a ginned up Amazing Race than anything else.
            It is interesting that audiences feel so protective over the characters of Johnny Utah and Bodhi given that they’ve only been in one film, but it seems like it’s sacrilege for any actors other than Reeves and Swayze to take on those roles. Gerard Butler was originally cast as Bodhi but was replaced by Ramírez. While Ramírez brings some mystique to the role and tries his best to pull off the philosopher-warrior attitude embodied by Swayze, his interpretation of the character is far from sufficiently magnetic. Reeves isn’t exactly an untouchable paradigm of acting talent and from some angles, Bracey does sort of resemble Reeves. He does bring a heaping helping of whininess to the part. Similarly, Palmer is considerably more boring than Lori Petty was in the original. Gary Busey brought his trademark unhinged unpredictability to Pappas, while Winstone is the usual gruff English street tough he always is. Lindo is the stock authority figure, also doing very little. As a side note, the film features some of the least convincing tattoos we’ve ever seen in a movie. Guess the stunt budget left the makeup department high and dry.
            It’s pretty obvious that the plot exists to string the stunts together, and it all comes across as very perfunctory and half-hearted. This is a movie that should naturally be flowing with adrenaline, but it often feels like it’s just being shoved along. A Point Break remake was a terrible idea to begin with, and even with all the extreme sports bells and whistles in the world, there’s no way this was going to be anything but a let-down. In the hands of screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, it’s even more laughable than in the original film when Bodhi waxes faux-philosophical. Sure, the original Point Break was cheesy, but that was part of its charm. In place of that, we get a whole lot of going through the motions, the end result mediocre rather than radical.
Summary: This remake boasts superbly executed stunts but is fully incapable of justifying its existence and, for a movie about extreme sports, is sorely lacking in energy. It’s pretty blah, brah.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong