Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Brad Peyton

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luiz Guzman.

At the world premiere of Journey 2 at Melbourne’s Jam Factory cinemas, stars Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Hutcherson kept the preview audience waiting 90 minutes while they walked the red carpet, pressed the flesh and signed autographs for the hordes of fans. Was the film worth the wait? Like many other people who had other commitments I left the cinema before the screening commenced. Having caught up with the film upon its release, the answer is a big “Not really!”

Full of dodgy green screen effects, shonky science and second rate CGI special effects, this fanciful adventure tale takes enormous liberties with mythology and the tales of author Jules Verne, and comes across like one half of those old fashioned Saturday afternoon matinee double features.

Journey 2 is a sequel of sorts to 2008’s contemporary take on the classic novel Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, which was a loose remake of the 1959 film starring James Mason and Pat Boone. Like that film it uses Verne’s 1894 novel The Mysterious Island as a starting point. Hutcherson is the only returning star from that film, reprising his role as the rebellious and adventurous teen Sean Anderson. His screen father Brendan Fraser is nowhere to be seen, and Sean is having trouble adjusting to life with his new stepfather Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson), a former sailor who now runs a construction company.

But the pair begin to bond when Sean intercepts a coded message that he believes comes from his grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine), an adventurer who went missing two years earlier while trying to find the location of Verne’s fabled island. Hank underwrites Sean’s journey to Palau in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to try and find both his grandfather and the island. They hire a second rate helicopter pilot Gabato (Luiz Guzman) and his beautiful daughter Kailani (Hudgens) to fly them into a precarious area somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

During a fierce thunderstorm, the helicopter conveniently crashes into the island. There they find Sean’s grandfather, and discover the wonders of the island where nature seems to have been inverted, and is inhabited by creatures such as tiny elephants, and giant bees, lizards and butterflies. But then begins a race to find a way off the island which is beginning to sink beneath the sea again.

Siblings Mike and Brian Gunn (Bring It On Again, 2Gether, etc), manage to work just about every lost world fable into the flimsy script. They include the legend of Atlantis alongside elements from other classic works of literary fiction, such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Verne’s own 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Director Brad Peyton (Cats And Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore, etc) is a dab hand with special effects driven movies, and there some impressive individual moments throughout, but the visuals lack real impact. This film seems flat when compared to its predecessor and even its cheesy humour cannot completely save it. The film also comes in a 3D version, which is supposed to immerse audiences into this wonderful mysterious world, rather like a subpar Avatar, but somehow the process as used here is less impressive than its predecessor, which was one of the first live action films to use the technology.

Johnson usually has such a strong physical presence, which is not used to good effect here. Instead, he shows his softer, more sensitive side as a man trying to bond with his surly stepson; in one scene he even tries to show Sean how to woo a woman by flexing his pecs. This is the type of family friendly fare (as with Race To Witch Mountain, etc) that the former wrestler turned action hero now prefers to make. Guzman provides most of the film’s humour, while Hutcherson seems rather lost in the mix here and given less to do. And Hudgens spends most of the film dressed in very tight, very short and very un-PG like denim cutoff shorts.

Caine at least seems to be enjoying himself immensely amongst all this nonsense, and he is the best thing about this mildly entertaining film. Then again he was probably distracted by thoughts of the new house his salary bought!




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