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Review: Part 'Raiders,' part 'African Queen,' 'Jungle Cruise' is a fun ride

Chris Hewitt, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Now that Disney has followed "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Haunted Mansion" and "The Country Bears" with "Jungle Cruise," it's probably only a matter of time before we get "Standing in Line for a Belgian Waffle on Olde Main Street."

These movies-based-on-Disneyland-attractions are cash-grabby brand extensions that feel cynical the moment they're announced, so hold onto your hat. "Jungle Cruise" is pretty fun.

It sags in the middle and no one is going to accuse it of originality — the format is "Raiders of the Lost Ark" plus "The African Queen" — but "Jungle Cruise" is a rousing, playful adventure with clever shout-outs that anyone who has taken the actual Disneyland cruise ride will recognize. Set about a century ago, it gently chides cultural and orientation stereotypes in a way that is thoughtful and amusing without being anachronistic.

Between "A Quiet Place Part 2" and "Jungle Cruise," Emily Blunt is looking like the back-to-theaters MVP. She's winning as Lily, a wonder-filled English botanist with a touch of Mary Poppins in her. Pooh-poohed because of her gender by a plummy scientific society that looks like one that H.G. Wells or Jules Verne could have belonged to, she enlists her skittish brother to join her in a trip to Brazil in search of a tree with legendary healing properties.

The siblings fall in with cruise pilot Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a pun-addicted scoundrel Lily insists on calling "Skippy." He, in turn, addresses her as "Pants" and, in classic eighth-grade fashion, yes, this means they're in love.

On their quest through the jungle, they encounter the three C's: codes, curses and conquistadors. They also shoot rapids, fend off ghosts and repeatedly encounter an evil Prussian prince who has designs on the tree, too.

The prince is played by Jesse Plemons, proving as he did in "Game Night" that he's not just a fine actor but a hilarious one. The real surprise here is Johnson, who has seemed like more of a personality (a good one) than an actor. Here, he captures the laid-back cool of a hero along the lines of Indiana Jones while investing the romantic scenes with period-appropriate ardor.

There's too much happening in "Jungle Cruise," which occasionally pauses for someone to deliver a pile of exposition we don't really need, but credit underrated director Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Shallows," "Unknown") for making the pieces fit together and the ride a smooth one.

 

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3 stars (out of 4)

MPAA rating: PG-13 (scenes of adventure violence)

Running time: 2:07

Where to watch: In theaters and available on Disney+ Premier Access Friday

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