Like Vogon poetry, the plot of Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is mostly unintelligible and wants to beat you into submission. Manically directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, this latest derivation of a theme-park ride shoots for the fizzy fun of bygone romantic adventures like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). That it misses has less to do with the heroic efforts of its female lead than with the glinting artifice of the entire enterprise.
Emily Blunt plays Lily, a sassy British botanist weary of being disrespected by London’s chauvinistic scientific community. The Great War is in full swing, but Lily is obsessed with reaching the Amazon jungle to search for the Tree of Life, rumored to cure all ills. A roguish riverboat captain named Frank (Dwayne Johnson) is hired, and soon Lily and her fussy brother (Jack Whitehall) — whose discomfort with all things Amazonian is a running gag — are heading upriver into a host of digital dangers.
As snakes, cannibals and maggoty supernatural beings rattle around the frame, “Jungle Cruise” exhibits a blatantly faux exoticism that feels as flat as the forced frisson between its two leads. The pace is hectic, the dialogue boilerplate (“The natives speak of this place with dread”), the general busyness a desperate dance for our attention. Jesse Plemons is briefly diverting as a nefarious German prince, and Edgar Ramírez pops up as a rotting Spanish conquistador named Aguirre. Werner Herzog must be thrilled.
Buffeted by a relentless score and supported by a small town’s worth of digital artists, “Jungle Cruise” is less directed than whipped to a stiff peak before collapsing into a soggy mess.
“Everything you see wants to kill you,” Frank tells his passengers. Actually, I think it just wants to take your money.
Rated PG-13 for chaste kissing and bloodless fighting. Running time 2 hours 7 minutes. In theaters and on Disney+.
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