Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt appear to be channeling Bogart and Hepburn for a reboot of “The African Queen” as the pair travel downriver through the wilderness on a rickety boat in Disney’s “Jungle Cruise.” They don’t encounter leeches, but they do come across a treacherous set of rapids in the film that’s based on the Disneyland attraction, not the classic John Huston film. Still, it’s a rollicking adventure for the whole family that captures the spirit of the Indiana Jones series. There’s action, laughs, ghostly pirates, over-the-top performances, and great chemistry between the A-list actors.
Watching Emily Blunt run, jump, zipline, and scuffle through a bevy of perilous situations while dealing with an assortment of adversaries that includes headhunters, cursed conquistadores, and wacky dictators, it’s evident that she would make the perfect Indiana Jones should Disney consider rebooting the franchise after Harrison Ford hangs up the whip and sable fedora following the currently shooting fifth film in the franchise. It feels like she’s auditioning for the role.
Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton, a researcher on a quest to find an ancient artifact that possesses incredible healing powers that could change the nature of medicine forever. The year is 1916, two years into the Great War. As casualties grow higher it seems like the timing is perfect for a miracle, so together with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), a proper English gentleman who would be known as “high maintenance” by today’s standards, the pair head to the Amazon in search of a legend known as the Tears of the Moon.
Dwayne Johnson brings the comedy relief as skipper Frank Wolff, a tour guide who ferries paying customers down the Amazon River in his ramshackle boat La Quila. It may not be the best tour but it’s the cheapest! He also entertains the crowd with cheesy one-liners such as, “The rocks on the river are sandstone but some people just take them for granite (granted)” (insert rim shot), followed by “It’s one of my boulder (bolder) attractions.” The trite bit is funnier than it sounds thanks to Johnson’s deadpan delivery.
Armed with an ancient map, Lily hires Frank to guide her down the jungle river to search for the miraculous artifact while the two are chased by Nilo (Paul Giamatti), a rival riverboat competitor, and demented German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) who roams the Amazon in a U-Boat in a race to beat Lily to the Tears of the Moon. Both Giamatti and Plemons deliver exaggerated performances with ridiculous accents that add to the overall fun of the playful adventure.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the film takes a couple of cues from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise as ghostly cursed conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), a good soul who ventured down a dark path, are also in a race against Lily, Frank, and Prince Joachim to find the legendary artifact that in Aguirre’s case could reverse the curse that keeps him and his men prisoners of the Amazon.
As expected, there are plenty of CGI effects that range from dazzling to tight, especially when it comes to the supernatural pirates. There’s also a computer-generated tiger that kids are going to embrace while jaded adults comment, “that’s not real.”
Johnson and Blunt have great chemistry that teethers between frenemy and love interest. Their relationship is reminiscent of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in “Romancing the Stone.” Surprisingly, it’s Blunt who provides the muscle here as the adventurous researcher and Johnson as the funny sidekick.
Directed by Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra who went from horror films to Liam Neeson action flicks, to the excellent shark thriller “The Shallows,” and featuring a vibrant score by James Newton Howard, “Jungle Cruise” is great fun for the whole family.
Now showing in theaters and available via Premiere Access on Disney+