A new adventure begins in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, but anyone over the age of eight may find more excitement dodging sticky spots on the theater floor than watching this cheap-looking, lazily scripted sequel hampered by corny comic relief and a performance by Dwayne Johnson that makes his WWE shtick look like Best Actor material by comparison.
Intrepid young explorer Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) traces a mysterious distress signal to a remote island that's not on any map, and he embarks on a daring rescue mission while encountering a vast array of mythological creatures, the likes of which few humans have ever seen. Joined by his new stepfather Hank (Johnson), adventure-seeking helicopter pilot Gabato (Luis Guzman), and Gabato's headstrong daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), Sean navigates the crumbling stone corridors of Atlantis and comes face to face with bizarre life-forms while on a mission to track down his long-missing grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine). Later, as seismic shock waves threaten mass destruction, the group must race to escape the otherworldly paradise before the ocean swallows it up.
In Journey to the Center of the Earth, screenwriters Michael D. Weiss, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett drew inspiration from Jules Verne to deliver an upbeat romp for the entire family. Together with special-effects-artist-turned-director Eric Brevig, they made a fun, fast-paced adventure that proved a surprise hit at the box office. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a painful, often tedious reminder that lightning never strikes twice -- not even on an island perpetually surrounded by raging storm clouds. Of course, no one out of training pants is walking into Journey 2 expecting infallible logic and Oscar-caliber acting, but sadly, sibling screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn turned in a script that rushes over the more imaginative aspects of the plot so quickly that we barely have a moment to share the sense of wonder with the daring adventurers. It's as if by striving to make their screenplay as lean as possible, the Gunn brothers clumsily trimmed away most of the prime meat as well. Simplicity does not equal efficiency, and what we get as a result is a movie that lurches haphazardly ahead as the cast mugs, quips, and, in the case of Johnson, pec-pops their way through a sea of second-rate digital effects. Journey 2 looks like it was shot on a cramped soundstage with a few lights, some green walls, and bargain-basement effects software.
To make matters worse, the cast mostly appear to be going through the motions. A charismatic leading man when paired with the right director, star Johnson is wafer-flat here, his broad smile failing to sparkle even at its widest. Perhaps it's the screenwriters' fault for giving Johnson too much dialogue, but considering that director Brad Peyton's only other feature credit is Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, he might consider working less with computer graphics and more with flesh-and-blood actors in the future. The performances he coaxes from his cast are sub-cartoonish, and this seems only further reinforced by the usually reliable Guzman, here saddled with the thankless task of trying to make witless quips appear harmlessly amusing. Even photogenic young leads Hutcherson and Hudgens come off as blank teenage stereotypes, with Peyton's lens leering awkwardly on the latter in at least one undeniably exploitive shot aimed directly at the male adolescent audience. Miraculously, Caine is the only cast member who emerges relatively unscathed. No one else in the cast looks nearly as comfortable as he does while piloting a super-size honeybee, and by embracing the absurdity of it all, the game veteran manages to save Journey 2 from being a total wash.
With his Spy Kids movies, director Robert Rodriguez proved that filmmakers can still tell imaginative stories without stratospheric budgets. But you still need inspiration, and despite all of the lip service paid to the great works of fantasy literature, that's one factor the creative forces behind Journey 2 failed to take into account.