Disney is running out of steam, so it’s turned to a steam ship.
That’s the titular vessel in the new movie “Jungle Cruise,” in which the studio has taken another of its theme park rides and churned out a bland, quasi-pleasant, extremely derivative film based on it.
Truth be told, it’s a wobbly base to begin with. The “Jungle Cruise” attraction at Disney World doesn’t have much of an arc to speak of; you hop aboard a boat and stare at old mechanical animals while a skipper makes wisecracks.
Running time: 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of adventure violence). In theaters and on Disney+ for an extra charge.
To bulk up the thin material, the film steals from countless other, better adventure movies to create an altogether less satisfying combo plate that costs $30 to rent on Disney+.
Take the main character, Lily (Emily Blunt). She is indistinguishable from Evie in “The Mummy” series, played by Rachel Weisz in the aughts. Like Evie, Lily is an obsessive British researcher in the early 20th century hellbent on finding an ancient mythological land. Men are appalled she wears pants, and that fact is brought up constantly for the entire movie.
In the beginning of “Jungle Cruise,” Lily sneaks into a snobby London historical society to steal an arrowhead that is an important key to finding the Tears of the Moon, a lost Brazilian tree whose petals can heal any ailment. The scene, which sees her balance on a ladder as she damages precious artifacts, is a dead-ringer for Weisz’s mischief at the British Museum in “The Mummy.”
Lily also has an effete brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who’s just like Evie’s upper-crust sibling Jonathan from “The Mummy,” except now he’s a self-righteous prop to make Disney look progressive.
Stereotypical MacGregor comes out as gay in the middle of the movie for no reason other than for the studio to score some street cred with the Huffington Post. Although he punches a few bad guys — everybody is shocked by this — the prim dresser mostly just whines about how he misses his face creams and the fabulous hotel. Disney: Humanitarians of the Year!
And the ripoffs keep on rolling. The pair head to Brazil and hire a cocky skipper named Frank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson channelling Brendan Fraser in “The Mummy” and Harrison Ford in “Star Wars”) at a ramshackle, dangerous port bar (Like the Mos Eisley Cantina) to ferry them through the jungle in his rickety old boat he says is the best in the business. She’s faster than she looks. Yada yada.
Our heroes also must contend with a swashbuckling curse. The first conquistadors who discovered the tree hundreds of years ago were trapped by magic to live near the Amazon river for all eternity, which — yo ho! yo ho! — sounds a lot like the crew of the Black Pearl in Disney’s most successful ride-based franchise “The Pirates of the Caribbean.”
But isn’t repetition inevitable in storytelling? There are many thousands of movies out there. And aren’t we told that good artists borrow but the best artists steal? Yes, but then they put their own spin on whatever they pickpocketed.
What director Jaume Collet-Serra needed to do was find what’s unique and special about his movie. That it-factor is almost Blunt and Johnson, who are extremely likable and have cracking chemistry. Trouble is they give off BFF vibes when there’s romance a-brewin’. They’re a good time, but you do not for one second believe that the Rock and Mary Poppins are gonna make out. Ever.
Jesse Plemons, cinema’s favorite creep, is funny as a bumbling German villain named Price Joachim, and there’s a decent twist midway through the movie. But on the whole, “Jungle Cruise” is as exciting and inspired as those creaky robot elephants at Disney World.