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'Jungle Cruise' is a laborious 'Pirates of the Caribbean' tribute song

This is a critic-proof, merchandise-pumping money pit of a movie--instead of something a filmmaker had to get out of his head.
Credit: Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studios

ST. LOUIS — Early on in "Jungle Cruise," an expensive two-hour Disney theme park ride masquerading as a movie, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson fights a tiger. Normally, a human being would need some ibuprofen after such an altercation. Movie fans will need some medicine after this extremely long adventure picture finally comes to an end. Maybe even a warm bath and another movie to cleanse the palette. 

As big of a fan as I am of The Rock and his co-star here, Emily Blunt, they can't save this "Pirates of the Caribbean" ripoff. Everybody has been making that comparison, and it's due to the fact that it's completely true. Let me run you through the setup here, drafted from a screenplay and story that has FIVE screenwriters attached to it, which is almost never a good sign. 

Blunt is a persistent doctor out to discover some ancient curse, one that is buried deep in the dangerous woods of the Amazon. Nobody else other than The Rock's Skipper can get her there. He's a riverboat captain with bad (or more specifically dad) jokes and enough debt to take her up on the offer to go into certain death twice. 

Along the way, they will get into many different kinds of trouble, mostly the illegal kind, all the while bickering and bonding slowly yet surely. The supernatural element they seek is linked back to a time long ago, when a group of men tried to steal it and were cursed for life... or something. Look, the more I think about the plot and how the middle 45-minute section of this movie felt like three hours instead, the more I get a headache. It's the kind of movie that reminds you of older, better movies. The reason those raucous Jack Sparrow tales were so inviting was due to the fact the first one came out back in 2003. 

"Jungle Cruise" comes off as the unwanted 18th variation of that tale, but sub The Rock in for Johnny Depp (not a bad trade at the moment) and Emily Blunt in for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. This is the unwanted sequel that labors on for two-plus hours, exhibiting some witty banter between its two stars, as well as a better-than-this-movie Jack Whitehall, but nothing more than adequate action. It's all stylized and overly sugary, like a roll of film soaked in glitter and commercially vibrant story threads. 

Paul Giamatti shows up early on before literally jumping out of the movie. The talented Edgar Rameriz can add another throwaway role to his resume, and Jesse Plemons' adopted bad guy accent becomes nails on a chalkboard by the 30-minute mark. There's also the cute fight between The Rock and a tiger. 

The Rock and Blunt are better than this, but they know that already. They are both charming and capable of these types of roles, but the writing is just awful. This is a critic-proof, merchandise-pumping money pit of a movie--instead of something a filmmaker had to get out of his head. Jaume Collet-Serra is the king of B movies starring Liam Neeson, and one of those would have been better than this. I guess this is what Serra had to do in order to score the "Black Adam" directing gig. One can hope he produces something much better with his leading man there. 

"Jungle Cruise" isn't for kids either. If you take that 8-10 year old to see this, they will be spinning in their seat within 45 minutes. It's an even mix of adult and teenage to childish humor, but they will be bored or begging you for another pack of skittles. It's a forgettable, not that funny or fun experience. A manufactured delight that comes off more sweet than savory. 

Only the biggest fan of The Rock will like this one. Even if he shouted, "The Rock Says" at a doubtful moviegoer, they would be better off watching one of his other movies, even "Skyscraper." 


Dan Buffa/@buffa82 on Twitter