Newfoundlanders like seditious stunts. Think of 22 Minutes’s Marg Delahunty laying a mile-wide lipstick skid on Stephen Harper in 2004 and just last year sending Toronto mayor Rob Ford beetling up his driveway to call 911.
Now we have Gander-born Ryerson film grad Brad Peyton’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a Hollywood 3-D family adventure with a steady supply of nervy send-ups.
For instance, buzzing Michael Caine, mean old ’Arry Brown, about a lost tropical island on a giant bumble bee. Or having beefcake star Dwayne Johnson flex his pectorals at incoming chokeberries, sending 3-D major league fastballs whizzing at our heads.
The Mysterious Island updates Jules Verne’s 1874 novel. Ohio teenager Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and his stepdad (Johnson) break a mysterious code and travel to the Pacific in search of an absent grandfather (Caine) and lost paradise. Forget about mom, school and work – adventure awaits. Off they go, ferried to Shangri-la by a nincompoop helicopter driver (Luis Guzman) and his beautiful daughter (Vanessa Hudgens).
Spiralling through a hurricane funnel, our adventurers land on an upside-down Galapagos. Everything that’s supposed to be big is small, including dwarf elephants you can pick up and cuddle. Ahhh. And what should be small is … look out! Surfboard centipedes, T-Rex lizards and swooping, angry aircraft finches.
Making matters worse, albeit more cinematic, the local volcano is spewing a gold, spreading fire. The island is also sinking. Where did Jules Verne say he put the bloody submarine?
And so our four heroes rush about, dodging disaster, uttering breathless comic-book dialogue:
“What in blue heck is that?”
“The tectonic plates have started to pull apart under the island!”
Yes, The Mysterious Island is everything a 12-year-old boy could want – endless adventure involving a reckless adolescent hero, with a pretty girl in a clinging T-shirt around to watch him struggle.
Director Peyton’s curious handling of the material will interest adults, too. In his underappreciated animated CBC series, What It’s Like Being Alone (2006), Peyton demonstrated a tender, twisted sympathy for lost children. Set in a very peculiar orphanage, the show had unmistakable Addams Family values.
Peyton’s off-kilter humour is on display here, too. The film regularly teases its adult stars. For instance, the scene with Johnson swatting berries with his twitching chest.
Nor is Peyton’s Mysterious Island CGI tableau what you might expect. While striking, the sets are clearly unreal; the animals, sometimes glaringly mechanical. Forget about Avatar. Peyton is clearly smitten with stop-motion animation done in the 1950s and ’60s, specifically the fabulously fake work of producer Ray Harryhausen, who himself created a 1961 film adaptation of Verne’s Mysterious Island.
Harryhausen was often indifferent to performances. That too could be Peyton’s Achilles heel. Luis Guzman’s scaredy-cat pilot can be rationalized as more adult bashing. But for satire to work, it has to make us laugh. And what Guzman does here is punishingly unfunny – 90 minutes of ghastly, owl-eyed scene stealing. Oh, that he could put all those scenes back where they belong.
Still, Mysterious Island is an improvement on Peyton’s last film, the excessively frantic Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. The Newfoundland filmmaker has the potential to become a major comic director. If only he could make a movie from one of his own stories. If not, he’ll have to perform the auteur’s trick of making someone else’s script his own.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
- Directed by Brad Peyton
- Written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn
- Starring Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzman
- Classification: PG
- 2.5 stars