By Michael Phillips 2017-03-10

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

This image released by Open Road Films shows Charlotte Le Bon, right, and Christian Bale in a scene from "The Promise." (Jose Haro/Open Road Films via AP)
'The Fate of the Furious' laps new films at box office"The Fate of the Furious" has sped into first place at the box office again, leaving the new competition in the dust
The Associated Press10 hours ago
Burt Reynolds attends the screening of "Dog Years," during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, at Cinepolis Chelsea on Saturday, April 22, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Burt Reynolds makes rare public appearance at film festivalRobert De Niro helped Burt Reynolds onto the red carpet for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of his new movie, "Dog Years" Saturday night in New York
The Associated Press10 hours ago
Director at African Parks Andrea Heydlauff, from left, Executive Vice President of Digital Product at National Geographic Partners Rachel Webber, writer/director Imraan Ismail, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and writer/director and producer Kathryn Bigelow speak on stage at "Tribeca Talks Virtual Reality: The Protectors," during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios Saturday, April 22, 2017, in New York. Clinton was an unannounced panelist, there to discuss the scourge of elephant poaching — the subject of Bigelow's eight-minute film, "The Protectors: Walk in the Rangers' Shoes." (Anthony Behar/National Geographic via AP)
Hillary Clinton makes surprise appearance at Tribeca FestHillary Clinton made a surprise appearance at the Tribeca Film Festival to discuss the scourge of elephant poaching
The Associated Press22 hours ago
FILE - This March 27, 2012, file photo shows filmmaker James Cameron poses in London. Cameron set the release dates for the next four “Avatar” sequels, with the first coming in 2020. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan, File)
'Avatar' sequels now scheduled to start in December 2020James Cameron has set the release dates for the next four "Avatar" sequels, with the first coming in 2020
The Associated Press1 day ago
FILE - In this Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, file photo, Octavia Spencer arrives at the Oscars on at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Kent State University's first universitywide commencement May 13 will get a touch of Hollywood as Spencer speaks to graduates of the northeastern Ohio school. Spencer recently starred as mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the drama "Hidden Figures." (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Actress Octavia Spencer to speak at Kent State commencementKent State University's first universitywide commencement will get a touch of Hollywood as Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer speaks to graduates of the northeastern Ohio school
The Associated Press1 day ago
Movie News