“Jungle Cruise” – ★ ★
If the absurd, supernatural action-thriller comedy “Jungle Cruise” doesn’t qualify as a disastrous waste of acting talents, it certainly underutilizes them.
The versatile Emily Blunt, star of “Mary Poppins Returns” and the “Quiet Place” thrillers, competes for screen time with her stunt double as a generic action heroine.
Acclaimed actor Paul “Sideways” Giamatti plays a conniving capitalist named Nilo, a fleeting role reduced to a series of grimaces, scowls and steely stares.
And Dwayne Johnson recycles his standard-issue charming scoundrel persona, one he superbly honed as the titular mythic con artist in “Hercules.”
“Jungle Cruise,” as fans know, is based on the longtime popular Disney amusement park ride in which highly scripted guides take guests on a tour through a jungle setting rife with rich visuals and expected perils. This movie improves on that experience — slightly.
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Flairlessly directed by Spanish horror/thriller filmmaker Jaume Collet-Sera, “Jungle Cruise” can charitably be described as an uninspired mash-up of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the first, best adventure based on a Disney ride, “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton, a fiercely independent English botanist on the hunt for an ancient, legendary plant called “Tears of the Moon,” reportedly possessing great healing powers (and guarded by spirits of Spanish conquistadors).
Armed with an old map and a mysterious stone arrowhead, Lily heads to the Amazon jungle where she hires grubby local guide Frank Wolff (Johnson) to take her on a quest aboard his old jalopy of a boat christened La Quila.
They spend the prerequisite amount of time sniping at each other. Frank refers to her as “Pants,” referring to her unfashionable female garb in 1916, the setting for this story.
She flippantly calls him “Skippy” and can’t stand his chauvinistic attitude and penchant for groaner puns, such as how some lowly stones are “taken for granite.”
Not exactly Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen.”
Lily’s prissy, protective brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) comes with her, along with a Kardashian-sized wardrobe of rainbow-colored suits that almost pushes him into an effeminate male stereotype.
This is deftly averted by an uncharacteristic scene in which McGregor quietly comes out to Frank, marking a rare moment of subtlety in an otherwise blunt, perfunctory screenplay, loaded with cartoony sequences and characters, especially Jesse Plemons’ kill-crazy German prince with his ubiquitous WWI submarine, giving victims a choice of death either by torpedo or mangled German accent.
Blunt escapes this mess with minor thespian injuries, even though she can’t dominate scenes as her ex-pro wrestler co-star does in a film filled with juvenile humor to keep kids entertained.
He’s one Rock you can’t take for granite.