‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island'
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Kristin Davis, Luis Guzmán
Rating: PG, for some mild adventure action, and brief mild language
Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Bottom line: Fun and harmless adventure movie
The "Journey to the Center of the Earth" franchise is back, but it barely resembles the 2008 Brendan Fraser starring vehicle.
Fraser is gone, replaced by Dwayne Johnson — again. Fraser starred in "The Mummy" franchise, which was spun off into "The Scorpion King," in which Johnson starred. So for a second time, producers are hoping Johnson can revive a flagging Fraser franchise.
Josh Hutcherson, who is about to become a household name thanks to his role as Peeta in the upcoming "Hunger Games" movies, is the only cast member who returns from the 2008 movie.
The last "Journey" was only a modest success, but it was made relatively inexpensively for an adventure movie and didn't require a massive marketing campaign thanks to the familiar title. So I guess a sequel was inevitable.
The screenwriters really had to stretch, though, to find a logical follow-up story, and it shows. Jules Verne didn't write a sequel to "Journey," so the writers borrow part of the premise from Verne's "The Mysterious Island," which was a sequel to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
Verne's novel strands five men on a Pacific island. "Journey 2" will also place its five primary characters on a tropical island, but how we get there is quite forced.
Our returning protagonist, Sean (Hutcherson), went on an adventure with his uncle (Fraser) in the first film, so the writers had to come up with a new adult for Sean to team up with. He now lives with his mother (Kristin Davis) and step-father, Hank (Johnson), in Dayton, Ohio, which Sean finds unbearably boring.
Sean receives a coded radio single, and Hank, who is very conveniently a former military radio operator, helps him decode it. Sean is convinced the communiqué came from his grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), so the two of them set off for the Pacific Ocean to find him.
The island is apparently not very mysterious, because it takes Sean and Hank less than five minutes to figure out all of this, right down to finding the exact latitude and longitude of the island.
It takes a mere five more minutes for Sean and Hank to acquire the film's requisite love interest and comic relief. They fly to Palau then charter a helicopter piloted by Gabato (Luis Guzmán), a cowardly source of constant one-liners, and his lovely daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens).
The foursome crash-lands on the not-so-mysterious island and promptly meet up with Alexander. They now must find a way off the island before it floods, and the adventure scenario is set.
It's a shame the screenwriters didn't draw more from Verne's novels or any other source to craft an actual mystery story. It would have been nice to have a little puzzle sprinkled in among the giant bird chases, erupting volcano chases and giant lizard chases.
However, this movie is obviously not about great storytelling. It's clear from the opening minutes that we're here for adventure and not for thinking.
Which is fine, because after our intrepid explorers arrive on the island, the movie provides a steady stream of enjoyable action sequences and an occasional laugh.
On paper, everything points to "Journey 2" being a bad knock-off. There is plenty here for critics to pick apart, and I'm sure they will. But that's a tad unfair for a movie that consistently entertains and doesn't strive to do anything more than that.
"Journey 2," just like its 2008 predecessor, is made for pre-teen viewers. There's no profanity or sexual content, no human-on-human violence, and the scares are not too intense. It is, in short, what family movies should probably be.
It just would have been nice if the script had been a bit more thoughtful.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.