Cast and crew err on the side of silly in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the amusingly childish sequel to that unlikely 2008 hit Journey to the Center of the Earth. They’ve rendered Jules Verne’s novel into a jokey lark, with broad, corny wisecracks, comic sidekicks, and everybody riffing on the ginormous lizards, humungous spiders, and the like.
For those who have forgotten the conceit, the idea here is that while “most consider” the stories of 19th century novelist Jules Verne “works of science fiction, Vernians know otherwise.”
Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) certainly does. He lost his dad on an epic Journey to the Center of the Earth. Now, years later, living with mom (Kristin Davis) and an over-compensating stepdad, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), the rebellious teen gets a coded radio message from his grandpa. Since contractor Hank used to be a Navy code breaker, they quickly realize the message is “The island is real.” That would be Verne’s Mysterious Island.
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And they know where it is. That sets the stage for a stepfather/son bonding trip to the South Pacific, where they hire a low-rent chopper pilot (Luis Guzman, funny) and his daughter, given a teen va-va-voom turn by Vanessa Hudgens, to take them there.
They find the place, all right. Along with grandpa, played by Michael Caine in “Indiana Caine” mode — a grizzled joker stranded in the jungle.
The script makes gramps and Hank comic foils, with lots of “my large friend” vs. “old man/old ladies” cracks. (As in, “Be careful. Medicare doesn’t cover old ladies falling off gigantic bees.”) Because yes, there are gigantic bees, and poodle-sized elephants, a boiling volcano, but not — one must say — much menace. We never fear for anybody, and the action scenes are little more than 3-D showcases ripped off from the Star Wars movies. Director Brad Peyton plays around with slow-motion, which is what passes for style here.
It’s not Vernian or groundbreaking or smart or even that clever. This Journey is an action comedy for pre-teens, squeaky clean and scare-free. There’s not much here for grown ups. But Johnson, the actor formerly known as wrestler “The Rock,” makes a perfectly appropriate, perfectly adorable (he plays with his pecs, and even sings a ukulele ditty) babysitter.
The most brilliant thing you’ll see in Journey 2 is the new computer-animated Looney Tunes romp attached to the beginning. Daffy’s Rhapsody uses an old record the late Mel Blanc made as Daffy Duck back in the 1950s — Daffy singing about why he’s so “gosh-darned riff-raffy” to the tune of Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody #2” on stage as Elmer Fudd blazes away at him. It’s a hoot, because the little black duck was made for 3-D.
JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Directed by Brad Peyton. Screenplay by by Brian and Mark Gunn, based on the Jules Verne novel. A Warner Brothers release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG for some adventure action and brief, mild language. Running time: 90 minutes.
Critic’s rating: * * 1/2
Sean ................. Josh Hutcherson
Hank ................. Dwayne Johnson
Kailani ............ Vanessa Hudgens