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'Journey 2' the Strangest, Laziest Cinematic Island

The Rock, Michael Caine and Vanessa Hudgens all take part in this outlandish fantasy film.

 

There’s a whole scene in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” where The Rock and Michael Caine sit around a campfire and the ex-wrestler takes out a ukulele and sings all three verses of “What A Wonderful World.” Caine’s grandson had injured his ankle and The Rock’s song was meant to make to take his pain away. If it was me with the broken ankle, I would have asked to chew on one of the tree-sized mushrooms growing a few feet away.

That scene, which takes place about halfway through the film, is noteworthy for two reasons. One is self-explanatory. The Rock. Is singing. To Michael Caine. ‘Nuff said. The other reason is that it is the turning point in the movie when this wonderfully, ridiculously overblown family adventure movie went from being just silly and boring to a strangely (although mildly) entertaining fantasy film.

“Journey 2” is supposedly a sequel to 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a film I have not seen nor have any plan to. A quick Google search revealed that Josh Hutcherson is the only actor to stay with the franchise. He plays Sean, an adventitious high school student with a bad case of . After breaking into a satellite research center, he intercepts an encrypted message from his long lost grandfather. Although his relationship with stepdad Hank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is distant at best, the two start to bond over the code, which spells out the coordinates of a mysterious island off the coast of Palau where Grandpa is living. Somehow, Sean instantly rightly knows the island is the very same one that appeared in books by Jules Verne, Robert Lewis and Jonathon Swift.

The two instantly embark to Palau where they meet a local tour guide named Gabato (Luis Guzmán, in a performance that would make Jim Varney look subtle) and his beautiful, accent-free daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). While on their tour, the rusty helicopter losses control and they crash lands on the mysterious island. There, they find themselves in a fantasyland populated by giant insects, a volcano made of gold and beautiful CGI matte-paintings. They also run into Grandpa (Michael Caine), who has had made himself a “Swiss Family Robinson-esuqe” home complete with an elevator and working appliances out of nothing more than driftwood.

Together, the group learns that island is quickly sinking in the ocean (?) and that they must travel to the other side of the island to find the abandoned Nautilus submarine (??). The rest of the film is spent battling giant bugs, traipsing through colorful, 3D backgrounds, speaking horrifically stilted dialogue (“Where there are giant eggs, there must be a giant mother!”) and, oh yes, more unfunny mugging courtesy of Mr. Guzmán.

Way Out There

No one with a right mind would call this a good movie. The story is boring and uninspired, the acting over-the-top, the jokes lame, the morals heavy-handed and even the special effects seem lazy and underwhelming. But there’s just something weirdly entertaining about the whole cinematic mess.

In what other movie can you see an Oscar-winner riding a giant bee, a tight shot of Vanessa Hudgen’s 3D behind wriggling through the opening of Captain Nemo’s mausoleum, The Rock punching a giant lizard or Louis Guzmán throwing berries at The Rock’s flexing pecs, which ricochet off him and fly out at the audience. 

I was also left wondering how Michael Caine’s character could build such a miraculous penthouse on a deserted island, why he didn’t take pocketfuls of gold and go home or how Sean and Hank could leave the country for a couple weeks with no repercussion from work or school. There are no answers to these questions, obviously. This is a far too silly and unambitious movie for those kinds of things. But they did keep me entertained during the first half when my mind was wandering more than the characters across the island.

But then The Rock took out a ukulele and things started to change. The movie didn’t get better, per se, but it did start to win me over with its wacky antics and freewheeling sense of adventure.

I’d like to think that director Brad Peyton knew he was making a bad movie; the kind of wonderfully cheesy adventure popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s. If so, he succeeds in making a moderately fun flick that will keep the kiddies entertained and won’t leave the parents in a coma. I hope Peyton knows his film is outlandish schlock. I shutter to think of the alternative.

But either way, at least I got to see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sucker punch a CGI, 3D lizard. So I guess we have that.

As a side note, before the movie there are two things of interest: A short film plays before “Journey 2” that is the first CGI Looney Tunes short ever made called “Daffy’s Rhapsody.” As true as the material may be to the original shorts (the audio does come from a recording done in the 1950s by Mel Blanc), the computer generated makeover just doesn’t seen to suit Daffy and Porky. It’s like watching Charlie Brown in 3D. Some things are just meant to stay in hand drawn animation. The other thing of note is a trailer for “The Hobbit,” which made me more emotional than I care to admit. Now that’s a movie about a dangerous, fantastical journey I want to see.  

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