MOVIE REVIEW: "Journey II: Mysterious Island" (2012)

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This is, I think, the first time I've ever reviewed a move that's a sequel to a movie I never saw. I toyed briefly with the idea of watching "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (2008), but then I thought 'eh, it's a Brendan Fraser film. If I'm going to waste my time re-watching Brendan Fraser films, I'd much rather watch 'Blast from the Past.' Then the impetus was lost. Then I forgot both films - "Center" and this new one - existed. Then I took a nap. Then I thought "Holy crap! I don't have any new content today! C'mon kids, we're going to the mall!"

So here we are.

Now, if I appear to be taking this flippantly, it's deservedly so. This is a "meh" film with a capital "M" - a way-overdue sequel to a movie nobody much cared for in the first place, with only one returning cast member from the previous film. Which is kind of a plus for me, as it means this is a fairly standalone sequel.

Josh Hutcherson (19) plays "Sean." He went to the center of the earth when he was 15 or so, I guess, and that's really all I got from the backstory. And there's some vague shuck about his dad abandoning the family. I'm assuming that means an acrimonious contract negotiation with Brendan Fraser, but, hey, I didn't see the previous movie. For all I know he got eaten by a giant clam or something.

Anyway, he's a troubled teen - as shown by an entirely gratuitous motorcycle chase - and he's bailed out by his stepdad, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (39, but honestly looking older). Sean gets an encoded message from his grandfather (Michael Caine [78]), who's been missing for several years. I have no idea if this is related to the first movie or not.

Anyway, in a genuinely giddy little scene, Sean and The Rock quickly crack the code, compile a map, and figure out the location of "The Mysterious Island." Faster than you can say "Jumpcut" they're in Palau, chartering a helicopter owned by Luis Guzman (55) and Vanessa Hudgens (23).

They quickly find and crash on "The Mysterious Island," roam around a bit, get attacked by a giant iguana, get rescued by a surprisingly geriatric-looking Michael Caine (Still 78), spend the night in his bitchin' tree fort, and then spend the rest of the movie wandering around through various greenscreened backdrops. This film has a budget, so it's not a Roger Corman film, but it certainly has Cormanesque levels of "Walking Scenes" in it.

First we're taken to the lost city of Atlantis, then it turns out the island is sinking quickly, so they decide to head to Nautilus and escape that way. There's a chase sequence involving flying bees that seems to have come straight out of a "Honey I shrunk the Kids IV: Honey, I Have Indiscriminately Shrunken and/Or Enbigulated Some Of Our Children At Random." Then, as the film is running kinda' short, they pad it out with an irrelevant subplot where the dude from House of Buggin' attempts to steal gold away from an exploding volcano. In between all these bits, Vanessa Huggins stands around looking nonthreateningly chesty and/or bootylicious, as the situation requires.

Then they all escape on the Nautiulus which, disappointingly (1) does not have Jose Ferrer slumming aboard, and (2) works perfectly despite having been submerged for 140 years. Flash forward, Vanessa and Sean are boyfriend and girlfriend and apparently in college back in the 'States, The Rock and Sean are chums, Guzman is now running a successful underwater charter tour business on the sub.

Michael Caine shows up, pulls out a copy of "From the Earth to the Moon" and suggests they all go there in the third sequel.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

This is a pretty "meh" film as I've said. My own interest in it - which evaporated quickly - was based on the fact that "Mysterious Island" (The book) is a sequel to "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea," and not in any way related to "Journey to the Center of the Earth." So I was kind of fascinated by the idea of a sequel that involved the Nautilus bu...eh, you know what? Nevermind. None of that matters.

The concept is that Jules Verne's stories were all true, at least partially, so these movies are sequels to his novels. Is if fan fic when the source material is public domain? I dunno. Anyway: not a horrible conceit. You could do worse. You could certainly do better, though. This was a pretty tepid and uninspired outing.

Intriguingly, in the one genuinely interesting scene in the movie, our heroes discover that Robert Louis Stephenson's "Treasure Island," and Johnathan Swift's "Liliput" and Verne's "Mysterious Island" were all the same place, as related by different authors. This is a neat idea and a great hook which, alas, they drop almost instantly with no real payoff.

Acting: I like "The Rock." He's phoning it in here, though. And he really is starting to age. Michael Caine is phoning it in as well. On average, if you took Nickelodeon-level Teen Nick acting, and subtracted Disney Channel Teen Sitcom acting, you'd end up with a difference we'll call "Keanu" for no particular reason. Now, if you were to take average Teen-Nick level sitcom acting and *add* one Keanu to it, you'd have the level of acting on this film. It's, on the whole, acceptable, and ever-so-slightly better than an episode of Victorious, but it's not really 'feature' level. Better than "Hotel for Dogs," but then that's Teen Disney Minus-One-Keanu. Luis Guzman is the comedy relief, playing it in a kind of infantile style that's instantly irritating.

The 3D is meh. One of my kids complained that we don't really get to explore any of the neat locations we see. Atlantis, for instance, is pretty cool for the 3 or 4 minutes it's onscreen. The whole story is both padded out and rushed at the same time. It's good matinee fodder for 10 year olds, and there's not a bad word in it, but it's pretty bland.

I guess my biggest disappointment is the generally low cool-factor here. I mean, seriously, you've got a Jules Verne story *and* this whole "Secret History" thing going on, and you cant' make that fun? What's wrong with you? Sheesh!

ODDS AND ENDS

1) They seem to hope that kids will actually read Verne's books after seeing the movies. This is a nice idea.
2) Kudos for pointing out that Nemo was Indian (From India), which is not commonly known (ANd in fact, was only introduced in the second book. Originally hew as Polish.)
3) 20,000 Leagues and Mysterious Island (Books) both have Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean, as does Plato. In this book, it's in Polynesia. Likewise, the Mysterious Island itself was in the Atlantic, but here it's in Polynesia as well. No explanation given.
4) The design of the Nautilus here was really disappointing. It wasn't reminiscent of the books, nor any movie version, nor was it particularly steam punky, nor submariney at all. Just kinda' bland, but with some brass and wrought iron. Also: The Nautilus didn't have electric lights or Torpedoes.
5) Islands don't sink and raise like clockwork. Certainly not on a 140-year cycle like they say here.
6) Seriously: what's a Greek city doing in Polynesia?
7) Island Dwarfism and Island Gigantism make an appearance here, which is cool, but they completely misunderstand and misrepresent the phenomenon, which is less cool.
8) Assuming the island is sinking every 140 years, and then coming back up 140 years later, why does it have elephants on it? Where do they go when it's under water? Big cave? Tread water? What?
9) Island Dwarfism/Gigantism doesn't affect sea creatures since they're not *on* an island.
10) If Atlantis has survived a few thousand dunkings prior to this one, why did the city get wrecked this time out, but not before?

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS FILM?

Yeah, actually.

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