The latest outing from Disney, Jungle Cruise, obviously had high aspirations. It’s the first attempt at making a film adaptation of a Disney World ride since the success of the five Pirates of the Caribbean films, so it’s obviously trying to do something similar to the Pirates franchise. There’s adventure, action, amusement, and apparitions aplenty, but it lacks any of the conviction or charm of the Pirates movies.
Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are inherently charismatic and magnetic performers, but they really aren’t given anything to work with. They’re just fodder for action scenes that look still unfinished and disappointing. Jesse Plemons, who is always great, gets to play a mustache-twirling, World War I era German bad guy, but again, the writing causes it all to fall flat. It attempts to build a Pirates-esque (again) backstory about a curse and adds a MacGuffin or two, but to me, it was sadly wholly uninteresting.
Where I do give Jungle Cruise props is in its humor. Johnson and Blunt are stifled at every turn, but their aforementioned natural charisma does lend itself to a clever joke or visual gag here and there. Jack Whitehall also delivers a solid comedic performance with enough dramatic moments to give it some weight. But ultimately, Jungle Cruise is a large serving of “meh.” It won’t wow you, but it’s also not going to enrage you or get you thinking about all the problems of modern blockbuster filmmaking. It’s a middle-of-the-pack semi-original Disney outing that’s perfect to stick on Disney+ for the rest of eternity.
Director Tom McCarthy made one of the best movies of the past decade with 2015’s Spotlight and Matt Damon is one of the best actors out there, so when I saw they were to team up in what was described as “MAGA Matt Damon,” I was excited to see where the film could go. Stillwater follows Bill (Damon), a father from Stillwater, Oklahoma, whose daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) is in a French prison for the murder of her girlfriend.
The film starts off with Bill trying anything and everything to present new evidence to a judge since Allison is adamant she’s innocent and wrongly convicted. But since Bill doesn’t speak French, he enlists the help of Virginie (Camille Cottin), a woman he met by happenstance. From there, you begin to wonder whether this is a movie about getting Allison out of prison or if it’s about Bill — who certainly does have MAGA tendencies — learning to appreciate another culture different from his own. I don’t know if the movie itself knows what it wants to focus on, because over its two hours and 20 minutes, we get a lot of stuff, but all that stuff doesn’t really add up to much in the end.
Stillwater’s biggest offense is the way it co-opts the Amanda Knox story without giving any credit to the fact that it’s doing so. The names and locations are changed, but the story is still largely the same. I expected much, much better from the team of Damon and McCarthy.