Had its filmmakers not hedged all over their creative bets, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” might have at least been an admirable folly. Its creators’ many attempts to pander to the lowest common denominator and attract as many potential viewers as possible has made ‘Journey 2’ look like it was assembled by a creatively challenged brain trust.
Based loosely on Jules Verne’s “The Mysterious Island,” ‘Journey 2’ is thankfully not as spectacularly awful as director Brad Peyton’s last kiddy-oriented sequel, “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge Kitty of Galore.” But screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn don’t really add anything of note to the film’s mostly bland proceedings. If you changed its island setting and accordingly swapped out a few key plot details, the character of ‘Journey 2’ would not change at all. The rest of the movie’s 94-minute runtime is consequently totally anemic and uninspired, which is saying a lot considering that the film prominently features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s signature pectoral dance, here called the “Pec Pop of Love.”
Johnson stars as Hank, step-father of Sean (Josh Hutcherson), an angsty teenager obsessed with locating and traveling to the origin of a coded signal. Sean is convinced that the message he’s intercepted was sent by his grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine, looking perpetually out-of-breath and out-of-place). Alexander is an irresponsible explorer of the Indiana Jones-genre, who previously abandoned Sean’s mother to pursue obscure adventures. Since Sean does not yet trust his step-dad, Hank decides that this is his chance to bond with Sean. He offers to accompany Sean on his trip to rendezvous with Alexander on the titular water-locked landmass. Surrogate father and son travel to and are soon stranded on said island after Gabato (Luis Guzmán), a quirky tour guide working just off of the island of Palau, drives into a freak storm with his rickety biplane. Together with Kailani (“High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens), Gabato’s buxom teenage daughter, the group finds Alexander and then soon has to vacate the island before it sinks back into the Pacific Ocean.
The boilerplate plot probably wouldn’t feel like the kiddy fantasy film version of thrice warmed-over leftovers if “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” were visually impressive. The film’s visual effects are adequate but wholly unremarkable. In fact, the non-descript gargantuan inhabitants of the unnamed island are only big in terms of their physical dimensions.
Furthermore, the only really aesthetically striking attractions in ‘Journey 2’ are provided by some of its human cast’s physical features. And unfortunately, once you get past Johnson’s characteristically hulking physique, the only thing that comes close to eye candy in the film is Hudgens’s sweat-drenched cleavage. The former “High School Musical” star’s chest is inappropriately thrust into the viewers’ face so often it seems like the filmmakers way of visually over-compensating for Johnson and Caine’s apparent disinterest in the film’s stock material. Still, the decision to have Hudgens star as yet another plucky teen sexpot begs the question: who is the intended audience?
? The film will surely fail to get a new generation to fall in love with Verne’s imagination because for the most part, the pleasures of a Jules Verne story stem from the description of inherently fantastic and surreal creatures and locales. The many shortcomings of ‘Journey 2,’ including its lack of chutzpah and sense of fun, are all secondary after its lack of anything truly spectacular, or even just exciting to look at. Everything else is just so much flavorless icing on an already moldy cake. [D]