Setting a movie on a Disney theme park ride may not always work out as well as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (see: “The Haunted Mansion,” “The Country Bears”), but “Jungle Cruise” had a clean slate filled with an abundance of promise. There’s so much that could be done with the idea of a sarcastic skipper who pilots a boat through the Amazon, but instead of giving audiences a fun adventure, this movie is draggy and dumb. Talk about a wasted opportunity.
Wisecracking skipper Frank (Dwayne Johnson) is a certified con artist. He makes a living taking unsuspecting tourists on a thrill ride through the lush rainforests of South America. His ramshackle boat barely runs, and Frank owes a lot of people money. When he’s approached by the spunky, fearless researcher Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), she asks him to take her and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) on a quest to find an ancient tree with magical healing abilities. Needing the cash, Frank accepts. Along the way, the trio face danger in the wilds of the jungle from deadly natives and supernatural forces, and they must work to stay one step ahead of Prince Joaquim (Jesse Plemons), a submarine captain who is also after the tree’s secrets.
The story is anemic, and it didn’t have to be. The premise should have been a goldmine for a creative and exciting adventure. Instead, the film has an unpleasant apathy that’s all-around disappointing. There’s a forced love story between two characters who don’t belong together, and the villain is cartoonish and stupid. Blunt and Johnson are a terrific pairing when it comes to friendly banter, but their romantic chemistry barely registers above zero. Small references to the ride on which the film is based add a tiny bit of fun, but most are added to the mix without any thought or inspiration behind them. Throwing bones to Disney fans without any real thought behind nor understanding of what makes the Jungle Cruise theme park ride so beloved feels cheap.
I did have high expectations for “Jungle Cruise,” but the film barely meets the standard of adequate. What could have been an old-fashioned family adventure is nothing but a big summer bummer.