Movie Review: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Talk about mysterious islands -- the one in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island features an ensemble that includes Michael Caine, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson -- and Luis Guzman. That's some bizarre casting.

Oh yeah, and heartthrobs Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens: You can't overlook the reason this film's core audience will be turning up. How many 10-year-olds even know who Michael Caine is?

But then, how many 10-year-olds (and make no mistake: That's the target demo here) have any clue who Jules Verne is? His name is tossed around as casually as if he were J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. They even use the term "Verneians" to describe his true believers, as though they were Gleeks or Star Wars fanboys.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island ostensibly is a sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth, though its relation to that film is minimal. It features Hutcherson as the only returning cast member; it's based on a Jules Verne novel (oh so loosely); and it's in 3D (and not the fakey 3D conversion of Journey 1).

Hutcherson is Sean, first seen riding a motorcycle and being pursued by the police. When they catch him, they release him into the custody of his stepfather, Hank (Johnson), telling him that Sean was caught climbing a satellite tower. An ex-Navy man, Hank wants to be friends with his stepson, who's having none of it.

But Sean, in fact, needs Hank and his Navy training, to translate a coded message Sean picked up. Sean is convinced that the message is from his adventurer-explorer grandfather, Alexander (Caine) -- and that Alexander is sending him the location of Verne's Mysterious Island. For good measure, the message seems to indicate that it's the same island referenced in both Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

The island, they decide, is in the Pacific, somewhere near Palau -- so they travel there and charter a rickety helicopter run by a sketchy pilot named Gabato (Guzman) and his hottie daughter Kailani (Hudgens). The four of them set off for the coordinates Sean and Hank have figured out -- which turns out to be a spot no other charter captain will take them because it's the Bermuda Triangle of the Pacific.

The missing island is surrounded by bad weather and is known as a graveyard for boats. Indeed, the helicopter flies directly into a tornado -- and the four passengers wake up on the shore.

In short order, they run crosswise of a giant iguana -- only to be rescued by old Alexander himself. He shows them his prize discovery about the island: It contains the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis, as well as a volcano whose lava is molten gold and whose ashes are bits of gold leaf.

Just one problem: Something called "soil liquefaction" (it's a real thing but doesn't sound convincing coming out of The Rock's mouth) is causing the island to sink. So these intrepid explorers have to track down the submarine of Captain Nemo (of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame) that's hidden on the island, if they want to survive.

Well, there's fantasy and then there's fantasy. This is one of the breed in which people can jerry-rig drybags into improvised scuba tanks -- and then, around their 10th minute under water on two breaths, miraculously find their way into an antique submarine... that still works! And, of course, they instinctively know how to operate it. Never mind flying around on giant bees as though they were tame polo ponies.

As I said, this is that kind of fantasy -- the kind aimed at 10-year-olds who don't know any better. Except that, these days, even 10-year-olds know better. Thrills, laughs, excitement -- these are the kind of treasure that this film by Brad Peyton fail to locate.

But the studios apparently have neither shame nor taste when it comes to exploiting the under-age movie crowd with extra-high-priced 3D tickets. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is an entertainment desert, although the cast seemed to enjoy its paid vacation in paradise.

For good measure, the film is preceded by Daffy's Rhapsody, a 3D CG cartoon featuring Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and a recording of the late Mel Blanc as Daffy. It's frenzied, not funny.

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