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Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise
Take a large dose of The African Queen, mix in a little Raiders of the Lost Ark, and add a dash of Aliens, and you've got 2021's Jungle Cruise, Disney's big budget action adventure loosely based on a Disney World theme park ride.

Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is a professor who steals a valuable Indian arrowhead that is also being pursued by an insane Russian prince (Jesse Plemmons). We learn that Lily and her brother, MacGregor (Jake Whitehall) need this arrowhead to get their hands on an even more valuable prize called the Tears of the Moon. Lily hires rugged riverboat captain named Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to get her down the river to her destination.

This film features an overly complex screenplay from a surprising source. Two of the screenwriters, Glen Ficarra and John Riqua, are actually the creative forces behind the Emmy-winning NBC drama This is Us. They do have a talent for creating likable characters, which they have accomplished in spades...the sexual tension between Frank and Lily burns a hole through the screen and contrasts nicely with a sexist bent that simmers underneath the surface of the story. The characters remind us throughout that Lily is in over her head with her mission and everyone she meets are shocked that she's wearing pants. As a matter of fact, Frank calls Lily "Pants" throughout the movie.

Apparently, the Disney attraction that was the basis for this film that I have never been on, features a riverboat captain whose patter with the audience includes a lot of really terrible puns and provides an amusing introduction to the Frank character (though the fact that he's being played by Dwayne Johnson makes that kind of a non-issue anyway) and the film could have worked on the Frank/Lily tension alone, but around the middle of the second act, the story takes a real supernatural turn we don't see coming, though it is hinted at during the exposition, which initially didn't seem important. It's around this portion of the film, where the story becomes a little confusing, but it does wrap for an effective finale, which took a little longer than necessary.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows) deserves props for his control of the scope and size of this story. Disney spared no expense in bringing this magic to the screen, employing Oscar-worthy cinematography, set design, sound, visual effects and especially James Newton Howard's gorgeous music. As always, Dwayne Johnson is the very definition of charisma as Frank and is well-matched by Emily Blunt's rich performance as Lily, a perfect combination of starched intelligence and smoldering sexuality. Plemmons totally chews the scenery in his strongest performance as the villain of the piece and Whitehall perfectly channels Hugh Grant in his work as MacGregor. It's not quite a home run, but a lot of work went into this one and it's well worth a look.