By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Here’s a sequel that’s pretty much the equal of its predecessor.
That is not a compliment.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is an escapist action-adventure thriller for kids, a follow-up to Journey to the Center of the Earth in which characters keep asking, “Are you ready for an adventure?”
Well, whether we are or not, it turns out that the film itself isn’t ready.
The 2008 original, a family-adventure remake starring Brendan Fraser, based on the 1864 Jules Verne novel, was a cheesy, clunky movie-as-theme-park-ride, a 1-D movie in the 3-D format, which was the tail that wagged the dinosaur.
Its place in movie history? It was the first live-action narrative feature film shot entirely in the digital 3-D process. So, yes, some of us will praise it for starting the trend, while others curse under our breath for unleashing the 3-D dogs.
This one’s a journey too. Which is perhaps why it’s called Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It’s a follow-up loosely based on another Jules Verne novel, The Mysterious Island. And it’s child-friendly but grownup-alienating.
Josh Hutcherson, who co-starred in the first entry and is the only cast member to return, is Sean Anderson, a troubled 17-year-old and Jules Verne enthusiast who receives an encrypted distress signal, perhaps from long-lost adventurer grandfather Michael Caine.
With Fraser, who played Sean’s uncle in the first film, gone, the father-figure role goes to Dwayne Johnson, who plays Sean’s Navy vet stepfather and legal guardian, who accompanies him on this exotic trip, which he also bankrolls, hoping it will be a bonding experience that will bring them together.
Together, they take off on their quest with the help of a father-daughter team of tour guides — thus providing love interest and comic relief in one tandem — played by Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzman, a helicopter pilot.
They travel to the South Pacific near Palao, to what they think is the location of Mysterious Island, but are stranded when a freak storm forces them to crash there.
However, who shows up but Sean’s quirky grandfather, who has been on the island for years.
What makes the island so mysterious is not just that there are fantastical creatures, but that it seems an upside-down world to the visitors. Creatures that are tiny in their world back home are enormous here, and vice versa: here, elephants can fit in the palm of your hand, whereas the butterflies are gigantic.
But this inverted paradise is sinking, so escaping from it will be a race against time.
Canadian director Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore), who seems to have little if any feel for the material, conjures an extravagant visual spectacle but one that not only includes phony-baloney sets and terribly obvious CGI, but little in the way of suspense, drama, humor, or character delineation.
The childishly simplistic screenplay by Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn, and Richard Outten borrows elements from not only Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, and Robinson Crusoe as well. But it’s thin and sloppy, bereft of internal logic.
There’s an implausibility to so much of the film, even allowing for the license afforded any fantasy, that only impressionable and forgiving children (and the younger the better) will gladly go with the flow of a film that exudes kids’ll-buy-anything cynicism in its lazy plotting and half-baked execution.
So we’ll explore 2 stars out of 4 for the fanciful but feeble fantasy film, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a bargain-basement behemoth to take the kids to, as long as you — and even they — leave critical faculties at home.