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Jungle Cruise’ review: Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt adventure film predictable but fun

There will always be movies that make you feel nostalgic of the original and there are movies that won’t quite make the cut. Is it possible that Jungle cruise is one of those movies? In this review by the main stars of the movies one can figure out if they are fans of this or not. 

In “Jungle Cruise,” a Disney adventure that demonstrates how basing a movie on a theme-park ride may now be a more natural occurrence than adapting it from a novel, Emily Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton, a London researcher-explorer who’s as fearless, in her demure way, as Indiana Jones, and Dwayne Johnson is Frank Wolff, the friendly huckster of a river-boat captain who ferries her down the Amazon at the height of the First World War.

He wears a hat just like the one Humphrey Bogart wore in “The African Queen,” and she wears pants — which, of course, were an early adaptation of Katharine Hepburn’s. For anyone old enough, or old-movie-centre enough, to care (which is maybe 5% of this movie’s prospective audience), the banter between these two could be said to evoke Bogart and Hepburn — or, at least, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in “Romancing the Stone.” Frank, a charlatan with a chip on his shoulder, calls Lily “Pants” and tells godawful jokes. She call him “Skippy” and rolls her eyes. And as they go at each other with gusto and bite and a touch of venom, you can sit back and feel, at moments, like you’re at a romantic comedy.

But “Jungle Cruise” is at once a love story, a made-for-4DX action movie, a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-style fairy tale featuring a ghostly conquistador (Edgar Ramirez) and his pewter-armored henchman with digital snakes slithering through them, and God knows what else. Blunt, appealingly brash, makes mincemeat of Frank the lug but lets you know she likes him anyway, and Johnson knows how to deliver a genial putdown that still stings. They’ve got a chemistry, no doubt about it, but in a funny way the romantic pluck of “Jungle Cruise” plays like one more trick effect. You can practically touch the one-liners as they ping off the screen.

I enjoyed the movie more than I did the two recent “Jumanji” films, because you can kind of pretend that there’s something at stake, and the director, Jaume Collet-Serra, stages it all with a certain breathless bravura. Leaving the dock in the Brazilian jungle where Frank plays P.T. Barnum to gullible tourists, our heroes set off in his barely seaworthy steamboat, only to have to get out of the way of a torpedo launched by Prince Joachim, a Teutonic megalomaniac played by Jesse Plemons with a smirky flourish. The ship plows right into Frank’s docking station, which blows up real good.

There’s a turbulent sequence in which the boat speeds toward a waterfall, and a funny one that fools us into thinking, for a moment, that the movie is going to exploit the woefully outdated stereotype of a “primitive” tribe of cannibals wearing skull masks. Lily has brought her brother, MacGregor, along for the ride, and he’s a pampered dandy who think it’s not dinner unless you’re wearing a dinner jacket. He’s played by Jack Whitehall, in a pinpoint performance that benefits from not having to repress the implication that the character is gay, though it might have benefited even more if his coming-out speech to Frank didn’t dance around the subject nearly as torturously as the old repression.

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