Directed by: Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzmán
It’s certainly not good, but I can’t say I actually minded Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. That may or may not have anything to do with seeing it within 30 minutes of having watched The Vow, but that fact should probably be factored in. There is, after all, something preferable about the deliberately goofy when it’s placed alongside the deliberately gooey. And make no mistake: This sort-of-sequel to the 2008 Journey to the Center of the Eath is goofy in the extreme. It’s also utterly disposable and—apart from Dwayne Johnson’s “pec pop of love”—almost immediately forgettable. (I’m working on forgetting the “pec pop,” but I have the sinking feeling that this is in the realm of “that which cannot be unseen.”)
The connection to the first film—apart from the tenuous titular connection to Jules Verne—lies in the presence of Josh Hutcherson returning in the role of Sean Anderson, the idea of Verne’s novels not being fiction, and the 3D. In fact, Journey to the Center of the Earth was one of the first in this latest outburst of 3D—so early, in fact, that it had to be quickly revamped into a 2D version when it was realized not enough theaters had been outfitted with the new 3D equipment. Anyway, Sean’s uncle (Brendan Fraser) from the first film has vanished, and the now-teenage Sean is living with Mom (Kristin Davis) and step-father Hank (Johnson).
When our story opens, Sean is being pursued by the cops for breaking into some satellite-tracking station in order to get the full text of some coded message from his grandfather (Michael Caine in full paycheck-collecting mode). I was never clear how he got the message, what he did in the tracking station or why it was in code in the first place, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it turns out that Hank is some kind of code expert who can crack the cypher, impress Sean, and be fairly easily convinced to go looking for the Mysterious Island from which the message comes. That’s really the crux of the matter, since it propels us to the South Seas and the adventure at hand.
Not surprisingly, they find that no one at the location nearest to their destination wants to take them to the part of the ocean they seek—at least no one but venal helicopter pilot Gabato (Luis Guzmán in full-on mugging form) and his rickety chopper. And that deal is only sealed when Sean gets a look at Gabato’s daughter, Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). In less time than it takes to read the preceding sentences, they end up crashed on the island in question where there are lovable Schnauzer-sized elephants, giant CGI butterflies, and matte paintings of amazing landscapes. There are also over-sized lizards, birds and bees. (Why the elephants went the other direction is—like everything else—not explained.) And, of course, missing grandpa is there—and, oh, yeah, there’s an active volcano and the remnants of a geographically challenged Atlantis. Plus, the whole shebang is set to sink. The word you’re looking for is “perilous.”
Naturally, it behooves everyone to find a way off the island, but, of course, since good old Jules wasn’t writing fiction that means ... well, actually it means the answer is preposterously scripted. After riding around on the improbably easily controlled bees and other assorted adventurous, but never terribly threatening, things (the movie is scrupulously PG) the ordained escape follows. None of it is terribly compelling or surprising, though some of it certainly qualifies as ridiculous, and none of it is particularly obnoxious. But after seeing it, I find it perfectly believable that, as he has claimed, Josh Hutcherson had forgotten he made it. The others may wish they could. The grimmest aspect of it all is that it sets up another potential sequel. Rated PG for some adventure action, and brief mild language.