Sliding By Adventure Franchise Barely Passes Muster

City Pulse | February 6, 2012
Though hampered by some uninspired efforts in the joke department from newbie cousin screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" is a passable PG-rated family adventure movie. Added to the film’s flat sense of humor is the misguided replacement of franchise-starter Brendan Fraser (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”--2008). Dwayne Johnson suffers the indignation of performing step-dad duties to Josh Hutcherson’s returning daredevil character Sean Anderson. The actor formerly known as The Rock nearly redeems himself during a stirring ukulele rendition of "What a Wonderful World." The musical interlude unexpectedly brings the scattershot adventure momentarily into focus with some assistance from an indispensible but ultimately squandered Michael Caine.

Childhood literary classics that include Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and Jules Verne’s “The Mysterious Island” inform the story in a sidelong fashion. In the burbs of Dayton, Ohio Sean receives a coded message from his long-lost grandfather Alexander (Caine). Sean’s stepdad Hank is an ex-Navy man with a knack for code breaking. The missive sends Sean off on a chaperoned adventure to reunite with gramps. A sputtering chartered helicopter, flown by Luis Guzman and his character’s comely daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), enables a suspense-free hurricane ride that spits our plucky explorers out on the shores of an island that could just be the lost city of Atlantis.

Dwayne Johnson is an actor who tries so hard to be likable that it hurts. Given his obsequious nature, it’s easy to understand why the filmmakers chose him to replace Brendan Fraser, whose famously nerdy need to please comes across as a central aspect to his Canadian heritage. But where Fraser has a frenetic internal rhythm of free-spinning animation about his physicality, Johnson is plodding and methodical to a fault. His muscle-bound comportment overpowers the relative diminutive actors around him. There’s no jiving chemistry between Johnson’s fatherly Hank and Josh Hutcherson’s Sean. Caught between playing up a subplot of budding romance with Kailani, and following Michael Caine’s lead as the kind of person Sean aspires to be, Hutcherson gets hung out to dry in every scene he shares with Hank.

An example of the film’s lukewarm wit occurs when Hank gives Sean a demonstration of something he calls the “pec-pop.” Johnson flexes his pectoral muscles so they tense back and forth in a flip-flopping fashion. This odd display of masculine muscle manipulation is intended to impress members of the opposite sex. Needless to say Sean doesn’t possess such physical attributes to execute the maneuver in the first place. Hank demands that Sean throw berries at his bouncing pecs for the apparently singular reason of supplying the audience with an overworked sample of eye-blinking 3D effects. The ridiculous sequence begs the question, “What were the filmmakers thinking? The whole thing is just to weird to be funny.

Director Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”) struggles to make the most of superficially impressive creatures that populate the mysterious island that grandpa Alexander calls home. Miniature elephants, gargantuan bees, and slithering giant centipedes supply innocuous eye-candy that never reaches beyond its CGI limitations to anything substantial. A giant electric eel boots the possibilities for spectacle during the story’s underwater climax. A few window-breaking 3D effects spice up the amusement in a visually entertaining but narratively trivial movie. It might not be the bee’s knees for adult audiences, but “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” meets the unsophisticated demands of its pre-teen target audience.

Rated PG. 94 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five / no halves)

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