By Michael Phillips 2014-08-01

By Michael Phillips

Tribune Newspapers Critic

1 1/2 stars

In its own sweetly bombastic way, the 2008 remake of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" did the job, the job being a 21st-century 3-D bash starring Brendan Fraser -- an actor who gives his all to the green screen, every time -- and loosely based on the 19th-century Jules Verne adventure, a natural for the movies. Its script proceeded from the idea that Verne, science fiction visionary, was in reality writing about real places and genuine fantastic phenomena only disguised as fiction.

Now comes the Fraserless sequel, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island." And it's only disguised as fun.

Take away the 3-D shots of berries bouncing off Dwayne Johnson's vibrating pecs, and you have a pretty scrawny experience. Director Brad Peyton takes the reins for "Journey 2"; previously he gave us "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," one of the tougher sits of recent epochs.

The visual quality of "Journey 2" is such that while Peyton and company filmed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the results resemble "H.R. Pufnstuf" or the AMC theater chain's concessions promo, the one where placid teenagers hoisting 188-ounce cups of Coke are transported to a world akin to "Avatar."

Carrying over from the '08 film, a newly beefed-up Josh Hutcherson returns as Sean, now 17 and more sullen than ever. He has survived his journey to the center of the earth, but now his uncle, the Fraser character, is out of the picture. Sean's ex-Navy stepfather (Johnson) hasn't yet breached the boy's defense mechanisms.

Then comes a cryptogram from Sean's geographically distant grandfather (Michael Caine, decked out like a veteran member of the Indiana Jones fan club) containing news that Verne's mysterious island was no imaginative figment. Sean and stepfather Hank take off to the South Pacific to investigate and hook up with an islander (Luis Guzman) with a helicopter, a teenage daughter with college aspirations (Vanessa Hudgens) and a penchant for the broadest, most infantile brand of mugging. Guzman's usually a lot better than this, but then, so is everybody in "Journey 2."

The mysterious island's attractions include miniature elephants and giant ants, but the movie is weirdly uninterested in its own critter potential beyond the giant flying bees. These can be ridden like big, fuzzy, flying horses, but the magic isn't there. The bees won't give stop-motion effects master Ray Harryhausen, who created the giant crab and other beasties for the 1961 "Mysterious Island," anything to worry about.

Hutcherson spits his lines out as quickly as possible, which you appreciate, because the way the likable Johnson wrestles with his lines ("It looks like the liquefaction has tripled overnight!") you think, well, it's a living. Capt. Nemo's submarine makes an appearance, as does the lost continent of Atlantis, and the script by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn sets up a promising mashup of literary antecedents ("Gulliver's Travels" and "Treasure Island" to go with the Verne stuff). But the promise goes unfulfilled, and the film is preceded by an equally disappointing 3-D Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd cartoon "Daffy's Rhapsody," a grating, pushy comedown from the Olympian heights of "Duck Amuck" or the gorgeous and eternal "What's Opera, Doc?"

MPAA rating: PG (for some adventure action and brief, mild language).

Running time: 1:34.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson (Hank); Josh Hutcherson (Sean); Michael Caine (Alexander); Vanessa Hudgens (Kailani); Luis Guzman (Gabato); Kristin Davis (Liz).

Credits: Directed by Brad Peyton; written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, based on the stories by Jules Verne; produced by Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson and Charlotte Huggins. A Warner Bros. release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

Kelsey Grammer's daughter is Miss Golden GlobeKelsey Grammer's 22-year-old daughter, Greer Grammer, named Miss Golden Globe 2015
The Associated Press7 hours ago
Judge: Monroe letter belongs to auction buyerJudge: Handwritten Marilyn Monroe letter belongs to auction buyer, not Lee Strasberg's widow
The Associated Press9 hours ago
Hollywood pays tribute to Mike NicholsMeryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and more reflect on the life of Mike Nichols
The Associated Press10 hours ago
FILE - In this April 10, 1968, file photo, French actress-dancer Leslie Caron presents the Oscar for best director for the movie "The Graduate" to director Mike Nichols at the 1967 Academy Awards at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica,  Calif.  Nichols, the director of matchless versatility who brought fierce wit, caustic social commentary and wicked absurdity to such film, TV and stage hits as "The Graduate," `'Angels in America" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," died Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. He was 83. (AP Photo/File)
Mike Nichols, crafter of films, plays, dies at 83Mike Nichols, master crafter of films and a Tony Award winner has died at 83
The Associated Press11 hours ago
FILE - In this April 10, 1968, file photo, French actress-dancer Leslie Caron presents the Oscar for best director for the movie "The Graduate" to director Mike Nichols at the 1967 Academy Awards at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica,  Calif.  Nichols, the director of matchless versatility who brought fierce wit, caustic social commentary and wicked absurdity to such film, TV and stage hits as "The Graduate," `'Angels in America" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," died Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. He was 83. (AP Photo/File)
Master of all mediums Mike Nichols dead at 83Mike Nichols, a master of all entertainment mediums, is dead at age 83
The Associated Press11 hours ago
Movie News