Dwayne Johnson’s curious habit of starring in sequels (Be Cool, Race To Witch Mountain, Fast Five, G.I Joe: Retaliation) to films he had nothing to do with continues with Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a dire follow-up to the 2008 3-D special effects extravaganza Journey To The Center Of The Earth, with Johnson replacing an AWOL Brendan Fraser (who apparently finally found a green-screen he could resist) as the film’s lead. This adventure strands Johnson’s famously animated features in eyebrow jail, and squanders his outsized charisma and gift for winking self-deprecation in a thankless worried-stepfather role. It doesn’t call for much, beyond a lot of muscles and an ever-present look of concern for his whiny stepson.
Josh Hutcherson reprises his role from Center Of The Earth as a bratty, irritatingly rebellious book-loving adventurer whose overly indulgent stepfather (Johnson) takes him on a perilous bonding trip to uncover the titular land of mystery and find Hutcherson’s long-lost grandfather (Michael Caine). Meanwhile, Luis Guzmán works up a furious flopsweat as a comic-relief helicopter pilot and the father of Hutcherson’s arbitrary love interest (Vanessa Hudgens, formerly property of the Walt Disney corporation).
Mysterious Island attempts prestige-by-association by ham-fistedly incorporating elements of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island into Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, but it’d be hard to imagine a blander or less-convincing advertisement for classic adventure literature. The film’s clumsy omnibus approach renders it a poor, dumbed-down quasi-adaptation of Swift, Stevenson, and Verne, whose works are treated largely as fact masquerading as fiction. The 3-D setpieces are the film’s sole raison d’être, but Mysterious Island doles them out stingily, and its exotic setting registers as a poor man’s Pandora. Journey 2 establishes a pointlessly antagonistic relationship between the ceaselessly heroic Johnson and a clearly uninterested Caine; the latter spends much of the film apathetically hurling weak insults at the former, who risked life and limb to reunite Caine with his grandson. And this relationship is established solely so Caine can finally decide maybe Johnson isn’t such a bad guy after all. (It takes Hutcherson nearly the entire film to reach that staggeringly obvious conclusion.) Island ends by teasing yet another fuzzily Verne-based sequel, when it really should let the poor man and his much-picked-over oeuvre be.