Fairly Decent Adventure:

Mar 6 • ARTSY SMARTSY, FilmNo Comments on Fairly Decent Adventure:

SHOWING LOCAL LOVE: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is the only actor worthy of a second look in the locally filmed ‘Journey 2 Mysterious Island.’ Courtesy photo

One of my favorite film discussions in this town revolves around the amount of lackluster product produced by Wilmington’s own film industry. That’s a fancy way of saying “most of the movies filmed here are pretty damn awful.” That’s not a commentary on the quality of the work being done by the local crew, but a very honest, objective opinion about the Hollywood movies that have been made in this town. Most of them are terrible. Allow me to name the good movies shot in Wilmington; it’s not that easy: “Blue Velvet”—a classic. I don’t need to spend any more time jerking off David Lynch’s masterpiece.”The Crow”—a film I personally love. Then there are some wonderful little gems like “The Hudsucker Proxy,” directed by the Coen brothers, and “Firestarter”—the movie that got the ball rolling.

After that, things get kind of dodgy. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”? It was fun; it made some money. “Sleeping With the Enemy”—a popular, almost well-executed Lifetime movie; not terrible. The only other film that comes to mind is “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Now I love “Weekend at Bernie’s,” but we’re not talking grade-A, award-caliber cinema coming out of these parts. And, please, spare me the indignation or hastily written hate-mails. I’ve personally contributed more locally produced lackluster product than the whole lot of you.

Now, terrible films—we have plenty of those: “Super Mario Brothers,” “King Kong Lives,” every film shot here in 2000 and 2001 (“A Walk to Remember,” “Domestic Disturbance,” “Black Knight” and “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood”). Hell, there’s one movie called “Bolden!” that filmed locally, spent $70 million dollars and has never been released.

My question: Is Wilmington the big-budget blockbuster black hole of cinema? Maybe not. “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” is the latest locally filmed, three-dimensional spectacle released in theaters. While it may not stand up to the best movies made in our fair port city, it certainly isn’t among the worst. It’s a fairly decent, low-risk endeavor that is far more entertaining than I expected.

The story loosely follows the work of Jules Verne and comes with a modern twist. Sean (Josh Hutcherson) is trying to discern the location of the Mysterious Island. He receives a coded message from his grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), who has gone missing. With the help of his stepfather Hank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), they set out to find him. They discover the island and its many dangerous inhabitants. Basically, it’s a very lush jungle where things that should be small are big, and things that should be big are small. Elephants are usually big but not on the Mysterious Island. Bees are usually small, but here they are huge! Such logic applies to the entire movie. As far as inoffensive adventure movies go, it’s not that bad. It reminded me a lot of old Disney live-action films, like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”—enjoyable for kids and tolerable for adults.

I just had one real problem with the film: They say the words “Mysterious Island” a lot. Over and over again. Like every two minutes. If I made a drinking game out of it, I’d be dead from alcohol poisoning in half-an-hour.

I don’t know when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson became a franchise freshener. Last year he jumped into the “Fast & Furious” series and scraped the rust off the chassis. Later this year, he takes over the “G.I. Joe” franchise in its second film. Now, he’s been brought into the sequel to “Journey to the Center of the Earth” to liven things up—and liven it up he does. He’s not the world’s most gifted talent, but he’s likable, sincere and never embarrasses himself. I can’t say that about the rest of the cast. God bless The Rock, he tries in every scene. He makes an effort.

Veteran actor Michael Caine may have given us the most salient cinematic example of a paycheck performance ever. The man is coasting so hard right now that you could use him to seat a beverage. His performance is underwhelming. For someone with his chops, it almost feels insulting. Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) is a ridiculously attractive young woman. As an actress, she’s a ridiculously attractive woman. I’ve seen more convincing performances from day-old bakery goods.

“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” is a harmless movie, basically dragged into average by The Rock and a lot of forward momentum. There’s no fat in this film. It moves fast enough so as to quickly forget the mile-wide plot holes. The visual effects are impressive, and I give credit to the filmmakers for the effort to make something fun. There’s no pretension or attempt to make this more serious than it needs to be. It’s a grand old adventure that suffers from being a little too slight.

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