Jungle Cruise — the theme park ride, not the new Disney movie it has inspired — is notable for the groan-worthy humor of its “skippers,” the tour guides who provide Borscht-Belt-style entertainment for passengers on a trip down a lazy river lined with animatronic animals. That unapologetically cheese ball humor permeates the new movie, which stars Dwayne Johnson as an effervescent Amazon riverboat skipper named Frank, who isn’t above groan-worthy humor himself.
The plot of Jungle Cruise is straightforward: Frank is hired by a British plant scientist named Lily (Emily Blunt), who, along with her reluctant brother (Jack Whitehall), is searching the Brazilian jungle for a legendary tree. Its petals, known as Tears of the Moon, are said to possess miraculous healing powers and, for no extra charge, the ability to break curses.
Along with the lush (CGI-enhanced) natural scenery and the historical backdrop of World War I — which somehow allows for a German villain (Jesse Plemons, with an overripe accent and a U-boat armed with torpedoes) to wander around the world unimpeded in search of the same tree — there is also an element of the supernatural. Edgar Ramírez plays an undead, moth-eaten conquistador, and there are mechanical stone apparatuses reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. For all its disparate influences and cinematic borrowings, a better title for this movie might have been Jungle Pirates of the Lost Ark.
Still, Johnson manages to carry the film to a (more or less) satisfying conclusion — assuming you’re a small child in need of constant distraction. For older teens, adults, or anyone with higher storytelling standards, there’s a romantic subplot involving Lily and Frank, and a sprinkling of naughty double-entendres.
Other amazing sights you’ll see on this Cruise: Frank wrassling with a leopard; river dolphins; a bad guy who can converse with snakes and bees; dangerous rapids.
You’ll also meet the character of Trader Sam (Veronica Falcón), the Indigenous shrunken-head dealer who, although removed by Disney from its Jungle Cruise rides earlier this year because of racial insensitivity, is back, albeit in a more woke version. She refers, sarcastically, to dropping the “ooga-booga” stuff. Good for Disney.
This is an untaxing, big-budget summer popcorn movie for the whole family. Like the ride itself, it requires no more mental engagement than you would devote to any theme park visit (excluding the thrill rides, which actually raise a pulse.) ◀
Comedy/adventure, rated PG-13, 127 minutes, Regal Santa Fe Place, Violet Crown, Disney Plus 2 chiles