July 27, 2021
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson are romancing riverboat adventurers in a ride-turned-film that quickly becomes bland
Jungle Cruise review – the Rock’s Disney theme-park actioner takes predictable turns
The Jungle Cruise theme-park ride is a riverboat trip that Disneyland visitors have been queuing up for since the 1950s: an old-timey craft travelling down an artificial jungle river, with a jolly captain pointing out animatronic animals lurching out of the artificial undergrowth. Now it’s been adapted into a blandly inoffensive piece of generic entertainment: screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who once gave us Bad Santa and I Love You Phillip Morris) have mashed up The African Queen with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and with what I admit is a surreal splash of Aguirre, Wrath of God.
It’s lively enough for the first 20 minutes. The year is 1916, and Emily Blunt plays Lily Houghton, a haughty yet idealistic British scientist, much patronised by the male establishment in London. She imperiously hires a riverboat in Brazil to find the much-rumoured “Tree of Life” somewhere in the jungle. Its captain is a cynical-with-a-heart-of-gold rogue called Frank Wolff, man-mountainishly played by Dwayne Johnson. After the traditional meet-cute, their growing romance plays off the comedy turn provided by Jack Whitehall, playing the other passenger: Lily’s foppish, neurotic younger brother MacGregor. At one stage, Whitehall’s prissy, wussy Englishman explains to Dwayne Johnson that he is gay – or rather, he says something indirect about being not as other men, and the subject is never raised again, Edwardian reticence dovetailing nicely with Disney family values. It is a stereotype that Walt himself might have recognised, while also approving of the obvious heterosexuality of Frank with his muscles, boots and sailor’s cap.
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