Starring Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Dwayne Johnson & Michael Caine • Directed by Brad Peyton • PG, 94 min.
When the pioneering French sci-fi novelist Jules Verne was writing his mid-1800s yarns about trips to the moon, under-the-sea explorations and journeys to the center of the Earth, he had no idea one of his stories would eventually be played out by a slab of beefcake strumming a ukulele and bouncing bits of fruit off his chest.
But that’s exactly what happens in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” a modern-day adventure-comedy romp featuring an unlikely group of explorers who find themselves flung ashore on the mythical isle Verne wrote about in 1874, a place where things that are usually small grow huge, like bees and ants and flowers, and things that are typically large, like elephants, are pint-sized, among other marvels.
And Dwayne Johnson, the former professional wrestler once known as The Rock, leads the way. At one point, he plinks out a song on a ukulele. That’s after he boing-boings berries off his pecs, like some sort of upper-torso trampoline, but before he jump-starts a 150-year-old submarine by harpooning a giant electric eel.
And somewhere along the way, he socks a monstrous lizard right in the kisser. “Time for the ol’ thunder cookie,” he says, limbering up his tattooed, slab-like triceps.
It’s all in the high-spirited fun of this fluffy, family-friendly concoction of tropical-flavored action, chuckles and puppy love, stirred with generous 3-D computer-generated effects, sprinkled with a dollop of science and literary lore, and topped with a cherry about the bond between parents and their kids. It falls far short of cinematic art but goes down pretty well with a box of popcorn and modest expectations, especially if you’re looking for something younger kids will enjoy and parents can endure.
And it’s got an interesting cast, a sort of something-for-everyone assortment that looks like the onscreen equivalent of a candy sampler. On one end, there’s the venerable Michael Caine, an actor so actor-ly he’s been nominated for an Academy Award at least once in every decade since the 1960s. He plays the Jules Verne-obsessed, off-the-grid grandfather whose shortwave signal brings the rest of the expedition to the remote South Pacific island.
Luis Guizmán, who’ll look familiar from dozens of roles in other movies and TV shows, is a charter helicopter pilot with a constant flow of comic patter. Former “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens is his gorgeous teenage daughter, who provides some romantic sparks for the movie’s other teenage character, played by Josh Hutcherson. Reprising his role from 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” for which this movie is a kinda-sorta follow-up, Hutcherson has another flick, and a much bigger one, also in theaters now: “The Hunger Games.” But he’s actually a whole lot looser, and looks like he’s having a lot more fun, in this one.
Come early and you’ll see a real rarity: a pre-show Warner Bros. cartoon, just like they used to screen before movies in a bygone era. This one’s computer-generated, but it features two old combatants, Daffy Duck and hunter Elmer Fudd, in an all-new, zippy escapade that riffs on their longstanding comic antagonism.
And if you stay for the credits, you’ll hear the Johnson singing the full version of the classic Sam Cooke song, “What a Wonderful World,” that he performs only partially in the movie. It’s a full-on, bopping, big band version, and Johnson really swings it. Yes, really!
How’d they link a singing wrestler, a British acting icon, a visionary French writer, a couple of classic cartoon characters, giant bees and teeny elephants, “High School Musical,” Sam Cooke and “The Hunger Games” into the same movie? Ah, that’s just another of the mysteries...of The Mysterious Island!
--Neil Pond, American Profile