Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
In ‘Journey 2,’ there’s no escape
I searched and searched “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’’ for something to like. There isn’t much: an enormous electric eel that powers a sunken ship, Dwayne Johnson sitting on a log next to Michael Caine while strumming a ukulele and breaking into song, the closing credits. Even by the unambitious standards of some children’s movies and many movies that star Caine, this one has a difficult time making a case for itself as anything other than an adventure in baby-sitting.
Ye Olde Sullen Teen (Josh Hutcherson) and the stepfather (Johnson) he loathes wind up in the South Pacific looking for his estranged archeologist grandfather (Caine). All the eye-rolling culminates in a sort of group hug after an opportunistic islander (Luis Guzmán) and his tough daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) join them on this computer-generated obstacle course. The teen has the hots for the daughter but not as badly as the filmmakers, who can’t pass up an opportunity to watch Hudgens from behind as she wiggles out of a cave or leans over in a wet tank top. If this movie were aiming to turn her into Raquel Welch or Denise Richards, it would have to let Hudgens in on the joke, but the movie doesn’t have any jokes. It’s leering.
“The Mysterious Island’’ claims to be based on the 138-year-old Jules Verne book of the same name. But precious little of the novel has survived the torture of adaptation. Verne was seeing the future. He was innovating. He was comical, suspenseful, and fun. If anything, “Journey 2’’ - “Journey to the Center of the Earth’’ was a hit with Hutcherson and Brendan Fraser in 2008 - is meta-Verne, with token references to the author, his other books, and his forebears. It owes far more to video games and the flavorless directives of so-called family films, in which anything potentially fascinating and frightful about, I don’t know, a mysterious island is made perfectly bland. Curiosity and wonder are insulted as every minute on the island, which is sinking, is spent trying to escape it.
Johnson is perfectly fine in a movie like this. Kids find his muscles and facial expressions entertaining. But docility is not his strong suit as a star - gentleness, yes. The movie requires nothing more of him than to be a tree-trunk in a damp T-shirt. He has that lovely moment with Caine on a log. And Caine really seems to connect with kids. When he demands applause, the theater I was in filled with clapping. He and Johnson have a rapport, too. The older man appears to be saying to the younger one: “I’ve worked with this studio before. Their checks clear. Besides, look over there. We don’t even have the worst role.’’
He’s right. Guzmán wearily bears the responsibility for comic relief. He has no chemistry with anyone, least of all with Hudgens, who is very sweet with Hutcherson and very awkward with Guzmán. Her awkwardness might be the understandable result of embarrassment. Every couple of minutes, Guzmán has to, say, run from a digital lizard and deliver a line like, “I hope she doesn’t like food with poop in its pants.’’ He might as well be speaking for the studio, which is hoping we do.