Friday, March 02, 2012

A goofy 'journey' worth taking

The weekend of the Academy Awards ceremony honoring the best of 2011, I saw “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” This time next year, “Journey 2” will not be winning any awards nor will it be appearing on any best of 2012 lists, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun time at the movies.

“Journey 2” is a loose sequel to 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” The only returning character is Josh Hutcherson, who played Brendan Fraser’s nephew in the first film. Fraser is now out and Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine are now in as Hutcherson’s stepdad and grandfather, respectively. That’s a pretty substantial upgrade.

Hutherson’s Sean gets a coded message from his grandfather that includes the coordinates for Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island.” Johnson’s Hank, wanting to bond with the sullen Sean, agrees to take him to the coordinates.

To get there they get a helicopter ride from a bumbling pilot (Luis Guzman) and his gorgeous daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), who is, conveniently enough, age appropriate for Sean. They crash on the island, find grandpa and then search for a way off the island as it begins sinking.

The film goes on the premise that everything Verne wrote is true, so therefore the obvious way off the island is Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. Part of the film’s charm is how gleefully preposterous it is. This means when the Nautilus' battery is dead the natural answer is a jump start from an electric eel.

In keeping with that fanciful tone, it turns out the island also was the basis for “Treasure Island” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” This is an interesting idea that doesn’t get explored enough, but we do get Lilliputian elephants, which could replace ponies as what all little girls want.

In addition to tiny elephants, there are giant bees, which our heroes ride while being chased by giant birds. This includes a game of chicken that concludes in an absurd laugh-out-loud moment.

Logically, if there are giant bees, there are also giant lizards. This leads to the line: “Lizards, why did it have it be lizards,” a nod to “Indiana Jones,” the zenith of adventure films. “Journey 2,” while it pays homage to that series, doesn’t attempt to match it. It is content being bright, silly and teaching a lesson or two.

Johnson and Caine are immensely likable actors and their charms make the sometimes clunky, barbed banter actually work. Hutcherson and Hudgens are just fine, but aren’t required to do much more than inevitably fall in love. Guzman is funny, but is a bit too cartoonishly hammy and a few times comes across as trying too hard.

There are two reasons to see this film though: Johnson’s pec pop of love and Johnson playing ukulele and singing “It’s a Wonderful World,” which is honestly quite good. Seriously.

No comments: