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'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island' review: A franchise somehow gets more mediocre without Brendan Fraser

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

February 9, 2012

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*1/2 (out of four)
 
FYI: When punching a lizard in the face, it’s called giving him “the thunder cookie.”
 
At least, that’s what Hank (Dwayne Johnson) calls it when protecting his stepson Sean (Josh Hutcherson, reprising his role from 2008’s Brendan Fraser vehicle “Journey to the Center of the Earth”) as they fight for survival on a remote island that only Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift and Sean’s eccentric grandpa Alexander (Michael Caine) knew existed. Sean’s jazzed for the adventure, especially when their helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) brings along his fetching daughter (Vanessa Hudgens, letting her midriff and cleavage do the acting for her). Hank’s just glad for a chance to make the boy take him seriously as a father figure, which tends to be Johnson’s usual goal if the movie’s rated PG and he’s not tasked with cracking skulls.
 
That means Hank’s a badass who won code-breaking awards in the Navy but says things like, “What in the blue heck is that?” and knows much more about soil liquefaction than you will care to hear. The same goes for the steady stream of awful jokes from Gabato (Guzman) and Alexander trying to heal Sean’s dislocated ankle by noting that “Music is nature’s painkiller.” Anyone suffering from more than a bad day would disagree, and everyone will have a bad day once they hear Johnson’s ensuing ukulele version of “What a Wonderful World.”
 
At times seeming like “National Treasure” doing an “Indiana Jones” impression, “Journey” unimaginatively populates the island with little more than large ants, large spiders and large bees. (Writers Mark and Brian Gunn keep forgetting that “And then they see large insects” is how they spiced up the last scene too.) Fun, apparently, wasn’t willing to make the trip.
 
Some thrilling scenery would pump up the energy of a movie featuring a lot of explanations and slow motion, but director Brad Peyton (“Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”) crafts a CGI world that only looks more fake behind 3-D glasses. That’s not to say “Journey” makes absolutely no use of 3-D; at one point, Hank demands that Sean throw berries off the big man’s flexing pecs, causing the berries to fly toward our face. Kids, please don’t let this sour your feelings toward fruit.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais