The problem with Jules Verne, of course, is that he wrote his adventure novels well over a hundred years ago, and none of them are about boy wizards or sexy werewolves. So we can’t just do a straight adaptation of, say, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” or “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We gotta spruce it up, put a modern spin on it, find a way for it to involve Brendan Fraser and 3D and farts.
That’s what got us 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a good-naturedly useless confection, and what has now led us to “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” a Fraser-free quasi-sequel. Verne’s “The Mysterious Island” was a sequel to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” not “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” but I gather the plot here doesn’t follow anything of Verne’s very closely anyway, so who cares? They’re really just in it for the name recognition. If there’s one thing that will draw the target audience of 12-year-old boys to the theater, it’s titles of 130-year-old French novels!
Fraser is gone — he heard a “George of the Jungle” reboot calling his name — but we still have Josh Hutcherson, the teenager who played his nephew in “Journey.” The character, Sean Anderson, is now living with his mother (Kristin Davis) and stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), and is obsessed with unlocking the mysteries of Verne’s books. Having already discovered that it was indeed possible to take a journey to the center of the earth, Sean believes the other novels are based on truth, too, and that there must therefore be a mysterious island.
Turns out there is! Sean’s grandfather found it and has sent Sean a radio signal with its coordinates! (It’s near Palau, in the South Pacific.) Sean and Hank have these coordinates before the movie is 10 minutes old. The remaining obstacles between them and the island — the expense of travel, the dangerousness of the quest, common sense, and so forth — are overcome just as quickly and ludicrously. The movie really, REALLY wants to just skip ahead to the part where they’re on the island.
They’re aided by a goofy Palau tour guide, Gabato (Luis Guzman), and his teenage daughter, Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). Gabato and Kailani provide bumbling comic relief and a love interest for Sean, respectively. Once they stumble upon the island, they find Sean’s grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), and immediately have to figure out a way to leave the island, because it’s sinking, or some nonsense like that.
The island is a treasure trove of colorful special effects. Inspired by Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” (which in this universe has something to do with Verne’s “The Mysterious Island”), the tropical paradise is brimming with tiny versions of large animals like elephants and huge versions of small animals like iguanas. This is so The Rock can ride on the back of a giant honeybee, which I didn’t realize I’d been waiting all my life to see until I saw it.
The whole thing’s as glossy and prefabricated as a Happy Meal, of course. Directed by Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”) with an eye toward replicating “Jurassic Park” and Indiana Jones, it’s unapologetically derivative and feels hastily assembled. The screenplay, by cousins Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, makes characters bicker — first Sean and Hank, then Hank and Alexander — not because they have any reason to dislike each other but because it seemed like the movie could use some bickering.
But being an assembly-line trifle for families doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie. “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” benefits from Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine’s inherent charisma, and from the inoffensive pleasantness of the younger cast members. Some of the action scenes are fun enough. You don’t get the impression that anyone really knocked themselves out trying to make a great movie, but it doesn’t reek of shameless cash-grabbing, either. A big ol’ shrug of the shoulders, that’s what it gets from me.
C+ (1 hr., 34 min.; )