Cast and crew err on the side of silly in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the amusingly childish sequel to that unlikely 2008 hit Journey to the Center of the Earth.
They've rendered Jules Verne's novel into a jokey lark, with broad, corny wisecracks, comic sidekicks and everybody riffing on the ginormous lizards, humongous spiders and the like.
For those who have forgotten the conceit, the idea here is that although "most consider" the stories of Verne, a 19th-century novelist, "works of science fiction, Vernians know otherwise."
Sean Anderson (Union native Josh Hutcherson) certainly does. He discovered his father's fate on an epic Journey to the Center of the Earth. Now, years later, living with his mom (Kristin Davis) and an over-compensating stepdad, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), the rebellious teen gets a coded radio message from his grandpa. Since contractor Hank used to be a Navy code breaker, they quickly realize the message: "The island is real." That would be Verne's "Mysterious Island."
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And they know where it is. That sets the stage for a stepfather-son bonding trip to the South Pacific, where they hire a low-rent chopper pilot (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) to take them there.
They find the place — and Grandpa, played by Michael Caine in "Indiana Caine" mode — a grizzled joker stranded in the jungle.
The script makes Gramps and Hank comic foils, with lots of "my large friend" versus "old man/old ladies" cracks. (As in, "Be careful. Medicare doesn't cover old ladies falling off gigantic bees.") Yes, there are gigantic bees, and poodle-size elephants, a boiling volcano — but not much menace. We never fear for anybody, and the action scenes are little more than 3-D showcases ripped off from the Star Wars movies. Director Brad Peyton plays around with slow-motion, which is what passes for style here.
It's not Vernian or groundbreaking or smart or even that clever. This Journey is an action comedy for pre-teens, squeaky clean and scare-free. There's not much here for grown-ups. But Johnson, the actor formerly known as wrestler "The Rock," makes a perfectly appropriate, perfectly adorable baby sitter (he plays with his pecs, and he even sings a ukulele ditty).
The most brilliant thing you'll see in Journey 2 is the new computer-animated Looney Tunes romp attached to the beginning. Daffy's Rhapsody uses an old record that the late Mel Blanc made as Daffy Duck in the 1950s: Daffy singing onstage about why he's so "gosh-darned riff-raffy" to the tune of Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 as Elmer Fudd blazes away at him. It's a hoot because the little black duck was made for 3-D.