At The Movies: Jungle Cruise saved by touch of monster magic; King Of Staten Island is adulting done right

Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne Johnson (right), Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall (left).
Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne Johnson (right), Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall (left).PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

Jungle Cruise (PG13)

127 minutes, opens on Thursday (July 29) in cinemas; available from Friday (July 30) on Premier Access on Disney+ for a one-time fee of $38.98, 4 stars

Without looking it up, would you know how many movies have been made based on Disney theme park rides?

No points for guessing the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise (five films so far from 2003 to 2017, with a sixth in the works), but you get top marks for listing science-fiction adventure Tomorrowland (2015), supernatural comedy The Haunted Mansion (2003), musical The Country Bears (2002), science-fiction drama Mission To Mars (2000) or the one that started it all, television comedy Tower Of Terror (1997).

The reason for the lack of recall for most of these theme park tie-ins is simple: They did not work, or at least not work well enough to warrant sequels.

But that sad fate should not befall Jungle Cruise. While the comedy-adventure clings on to formula for dear life, there is just enough weirdness to save it from disposability and perhaps earn it a second or third instalment.

British actress Emily Blunt is the headstrong, virtuous and too plain-spoken Dr Lily Houghton. In a bid to save lives in the war-torn trenches of France and vindicate family honour, she heads to the Amazonian rainforest in search of a fabled plant believed to be a panacea.

With her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) - a man who loves his creature comforts - in tow, she meets Captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), a boatman as unreliable as the clapped-out vessel he operates.

Movies about Westerners marching into indigenous lands to rip off sacred items will not fly in 2021, so the story avoids colonialist tropes by making Houghton and Wolff respectful foreigners, while less respectful ones, such as the villains played by Edgar Ramirez and Jesse Plemons, pay the price in bad karma.

Spanish-American director Jaume Collet-Serra came up through horror (House Of Wax, 2005) and lower-budget thrillers (the tense, minimalist woman-versus-shark drama The Shallows, 2016).

In between the weightless, low-stakes but large-scale action sequences, he flies his horror flag by inserting cleverly staged creature scares, boosting a ride that would otherwise be a quiet commute.

The King Of Staten Island (M18)


The King Of Staten Island starring Pete Davidson. PHOTO: HBO ASIA

131 minutes, available on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601, Singtel TV Channel 420) and HBO Go, 4 stars

American comedian Pete Davidson has become something of a millennial poster boy for a couple of reasons.

First, there is the 27-year-old's tabloid-worthy dating history, which has included pop star Ariana Grande and the woman he is now linked with, British actress Phoebe Dynevor, star of the hit Netflix period romance Bridgerton (2020).

There is also his success, which has come despite his polarising personal style, which combines a nasal voice and unhealthy pallor with the fashion sense and tattoos of a barista in a cafe popular with art school students.

He also happens to be a talented actor, capable of projecting a painfully sincere vulnerability, while also being funny.

He uses life as raw material for the nakedly honest, frequently hilarious The King Of Staten Island. While directed by comedy titan Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 2005; Trainwreck, 2015), this movie features Davidson as its star, co-producer and co-writer (with Apatow).

Davidson is Scott, a jobless 24-year-old whose psychological journey to adulthood has been stunted by his inability to process the death of his father.

His stasis is aided by a coterie of stoner friends and a sort-of girlfriend in Kelsey (British actress Bel Powley). In an uncool town located in the uncool New York borough of the film's title, Scott struggles to remain as he is - a tenant in the home of his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei), content to keep high and hang out, much to the annoyance of his ambitious and more well-adjusted sister Claire (Apatow's daughter, Maude Apatow).

Despite its flaws, this semi-autobiographical drama-comedy is great at the comedy, much less so with the drama - as frequently happens with Apatow. Winning performances by Davidson, Powley and Tomei lift this work above the mass of others in the adulting genre.