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A 3D update of one of the less widely read Jules Verne classics, it follows the 2008 hit Journey to the Center of the Earth, a pioneer in the 3D resurrection that reached its zenith a year later with Avatar.
Verne was a fantasist nonpareil, but his 19th century imagination would surely have balked at the notion of berries pinging wildly off The Rock’s pecs as they do in this kid-friendly excursion from Canadian director Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore).
The targeted demographic, however, will gladly hop aboard for a cornball ride through colorful, often glaringly phony sets popping with miniature elephants, gold-spewing volcanoes and a monster-truck-sized lizard.
For the adults, there’s the edifying sight of Michael Caine astride a giant bee.
The New Line and Contrafilm presentation, bowing in Australia January 19 before a global roll-out that reaches North America on February 10, can expect to at least equal the $250 million box office drawn by 2008’s Journey.
Josh Hutcherson, whose teen idol status is set to hit critical mass with his upcoming role in The Hunger Games, returns as intrepid young explorer Sean Anderson.
In Journey, he was accompanied by his uncle (played by Brendan Fraser), but this time round a cheerily self-aware Johnson, as his Navy vet stepfather Hank, is the responsible adult on board.
Sean is now a rebellious 17-year-old and skeptical of the new father-figure chosen by his mom (Kristen Davis). The requisite male bonding ensues when Sean intercepts a coded distress signal which leads the pair to an uncharted island in the middle of the South Pacific and into the eccentric vortex of Sean’s adventurer grandfather, Alexander (Caine).
Equal and opposite attraction emerges in the form of the headstrong Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), daughter of helicopter pilot Gabato (Luis Guzmán, providing stale comic relief).
The island is a rainbow-filled world where evolutionary anomalies abound but, as the band of adventurers skips from one supersized Survivor-like challenge to the next, one can’t help feeling the creative potential of Verne’s vision is wasted.
There’s certainly nothing much here to frighten the children, although Johnson’s ukulele-accompanied rendition of “What a Wonderful World” might come close.
The dense scientific discussion that characterized Verne’s “The Mysterious Island” is boiled down to an occasional spurt of exposition – and an iPhone cameo – as screenwriters Richard Outten, Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn braid together elements from that novel, together with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, to produce an episodic storyline.
Like Jane Austen, Verne has provided a rich seam for Hollywood screenwriters to mine long after his death. There have been various cinematic adaptations of his 1874 novel; the most fondly remembered is 1961’s Mysterious Island, celebrated for Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation and the buckskin micro-dress worn by Beth Rogan. That film followed the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth in the same way Journey 2 follows 2008’s Journey, but was considered a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in that the megalomaniac Captain Nemo also featured.
Nemo is referenced obliquely here, but a glorious steam-punk rendering of the Nautilus is featured prominently, eventually getting a jump-start from a gigantic electric eel in one of the film’s most inventive set pieces.
Where the 1961 film took its make-believe seriously, Peyton is content creating a series of visual spectacles. Johnson sets the tone with an affable goofiness, although never ignites the spark that his labored banter with Caine requires.
Opens: Australia, January 19; U.S. February 10
Production company: New Line Cinema presentation of a Contrafilm production
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Michael Caine, Luis Guzman
Director: Brad Peyton
Screenwriters: Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, from a story by Richard Outten, Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn
Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson, Charlotte Huggins
Executive producers: Richard Brener, Michael Disco, Samuel J. Brown, Marcus Viscidi,
Michael Bostick and Evan Turner
Co-producer: Dwayne Johnson
Director of photography: David Tattersall
Production designer: Bill Boes
Costume designer: Denise Wingate
Music: Andrew Lockington
Editor: David Rennie
Rated PG, 94 minutes
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