Jungle Cruise review – the Rock’s Disney theme-park actioner takes predictable turns

The Jungle Cruise theme-park ride is a riverboat trip that Disneyland visitors have been queuing up for since the 1950s: an old-timey craft travelling down an artificial jungle river, with a jolly captain pointing out animatronic animals lurching out of the artificial undergrowth. Now it’s been adapted into a blandly inoffensive piece of generic entertainment: screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who once gave us Bad Santa and I Love You Phillip Morris) have mashed up The African Queen with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and with what I admit is a surreal splash of Aguirre, Wrath of God.

It’s lively enough for the first 20 minutes. The year is 1916, and Emily Blunt plays Lily Houghton, a haughty yet idealistic British scientist, much patronised by the male establishment in London. She imperiously hires a riverboat in Brazil to find the much-rumoured “Tree of Life” somewhere in the jungle. Its captain is a cynical-with-a-heart-of-gold rogue called Frank Wolff, man-mountainishly played by Dwayne Johnson. After the traditional meet-cute, their growing romance plays off the comedy turn provided by Jack Whitehall, playing the other passenger: Lily’s foppish, neurotic younger brother MacGregor. At one stage, Whitehall’s prissy, wussy Englishman explains to Dwayne Johnson that he is gay – or rather, he says something indirect about being not as other men, and the subject is never raised again, Edwardian reticence dovetailing nicely with Disney family values. It is a stereotype that Walt himself might have recognised, while also approving of the obvious heterosexuality of Frank with his muscles, boots and sailor’s cap.

The trio encounter all sorts of shrink-wrapped CGI Disney adventures, facing off against evil German nobleman Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) who wants the Tree of Life’s powers to boost the German army, and the ghostly Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez) who went searching for it in the 16th century. The spark that was there in the opening section disappears and the film splutters out into something directionless and derivative and dull.

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