The second installment in a likable family franchise, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island makes a nice case to your kids that reading books is a good idea.
Based oh-so-loosely on Jules Verne’s classic, the film follows the further adventures of teenager Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), who — speaking of Verne classics — journeyed to the center of the earth with his uncle (Brendan Fraser) back in 2008. Fortunately, Sean has other adventurous relatives: In Mysterious Island, he intercepts a radio signal from his missing grandfather (a jovial Michael Caine), who is off somewhere in the South Pacific looking for Verne’s island. Hardcore Vernians, you see, believe the island really exists. This movie may be for kids, but it’s got enough meta moments to delight adults who appreciate that sort of thing.
Sean wants to rush off to Palau to search for the old man, but his mom (Kristin Davis) and her boyfriend Hank (Dwayne Johnson) object (though, strangely, not because the price of a round-trip plane ticket to a small Pacific island is prohibitive). A deal is struck: Hank and Sean will go together. Sulky Sean is not really happy about this agreement but cheers up considerably once they book a helicopter to take them to the coordinates Grandpa sent, and he gets a look at the lovely daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) of the cowardly pilot (Luis Guzman). A bizarre storm deposits them all on the island, and the adventure begins.
The scares in Mysterious Island are mild enough: The helicopter crash isn’t at all frightening, and an encounter with an angry, giant lizard provides an extremely funny face-off with Johnson, who is a genuinely engaging screen personality. Guzman provides goofy sidekick humor involving bird poop and exaggerated terror, and Hudgens offers a bit of tough-girl femininity amid all the testosterone. Most interesting of all is Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right), who’s poised on the brink of Robert Pattinson-like superstardom come March when The Hunger Games hits theaters. He’s a solid screen presence as the resourceful Sean, a skill that should serve him well as Games’ heartthrob Peeta.
The film’s logic is cheerfully, carelessly faulty, and the leaps of understanding as unlikely as the existence of a habitat that produces tiny elephants and monstrous spiders . The whimsy — the characters ride plus-size bees, for heaven’s sake — will try the patience of teenagers who prefer menace and violence with their action. The Mysterious Island is aimed at younger kids and parents who can’t face the notion of sitting through the 3D reboot of The Phantom Menace this weekend.
But then again, neither Sean nor Hank can find the island or rescue the group without having read Verne’s books, and such a salute to the power of imagination and the importance of reading deserves praise. Besides, let’s be honest — who wouldn’t like to ride a giant bee?
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson, Michael Caine, Luis Guzman, Vanessa Hudgens.
Director: Brad Peyton.
Screenwriters: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn, Richard Outten. Based on the book by Jules Verne.
Producers: Beau Flynn, Charlotte Huggins, Tripp Vinson.
A New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. release. Running time: 94 minutes. Some action adventure, mild brief language. Opens Friday Feb. 10 at area theaters.