New to DVD/Blu-ray: "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" unambitious but likable

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)
94 min., rated PG.

As a play-on words, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" does involve a journey to the Mysterious Island, but it's also a sorta-sequel to 2008's innocuous, entertaining "Journey to the Center of the Earth," a looser-than-loose, modernized adaptation of Jules Verne's classic fantasy novel. Josh Hutcherson returns, but the rest of the cast (headed by Brendan Fraser), the previous triad of screenwriters, and director Eric Brevig sit out this new adventure. Director Brad Peyton (2010's "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore"), working from a script by Brian and Mark Gunn, leaves overrated logic in the quicksand and keeps the action moving like a busy bee. It's a slapdash, contrived follow-up, but goofy fun just the same. 

Breaking into a satellite-tracking facility and then driving his dirt bike into somebody's pool from being pursued by the cops, Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) is thisclose to being thrown in juvie. But his late-night shenanigans weren't for nothing: a Morse code is sent to his ham radio by a fellow "Verne-ian," stating that "the island is real" and pointing to the same Mysterious Island in Jules Verne's "The Mysterious Island," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," and Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." With the help of his stepfather, Hank Parsons (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), they crack the code that leads to a map of the titular island, where Sean's estranged explorer grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), resides. Immediately, Sean and Hank set off to the South Pacific island of Palau, offering $3,000 to a pilot named Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his gorgeous daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) in their dinky helicopter. Naturally, upon entering a storm, the helicopter gets sucked into a vortex and they land on shore of the island. Though the paradise sure is mysterious for Earth dwellers, it's also sinking, so they must find a way out. 

Proving himself a talented actor of his generation with each project, Josh Hutcherson rides on pure naturalism in his encore role of Sean. Dwayne Johnson has always been taken to starring in throwaway kid pictures, and here, he's still as likable and charismatic as ever with all the gusto he's earned as a wrestler-turned-actor. The WWE star even gets to play a ukelele and demonstrate "the pec pop of love," where he bounces berries off his flexing pectorals. On screen with Michael Caine, "The Rock" and the former Alfie get to share some amusing ongoing banter. Even if he gets to act like another nincompoop, Luis Guzman is more funny than obnoxious here. Vanessa Hudgens has a nice, natural presence in the part of "the girl," all slo-mo wavy hair upon our hero meeting her. If you never thought Miss Hudgens would call Luis Guzman "papa," you're at the wrong movie. Taking over for Jane Wheeler from the earlier film, Kristin Davis is lucky enough to play The Rock's wife, but again, she stays home as the concerned mom (adding to her work in "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl," "The Shaggy Dog," and "Deck the Halls"). 

The dramatic moments are earnest and often cheesy, and some of the comedic moments are clunky, a big, tough guy like Hank being afraid of lizards ("Why couldn't it be snakes?"). But the tone is light, even when danger is at stake, and the action is well-shot and exciting (with 3-D technology intended). A chase by giant Bee-eaters, while the characters ride on top of bumblebees à la 1989's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," is the film's most exciting action set-piece, with an electric eel thrown in during our heroes' journey many leagues under the sea. The Mysterious Island itself resembles a candy-colored amusement park, like a glossy, harmless "Jurassic Park," with plenty of CG creatures, including cute miniature elephants, a giant lizard, and spiders. It will make a great video aquarium for youngsters.

Without having much substance or high ambitions, a family film can eke by for being just pleasant enough, and that's where "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" stands. You might not remember it in the morning, but it's a zippy, enjoyable adventure for kids and Verne readers that'll be giddy for a sequel ("From the Earth to the Moon") to which this one sets up. How can you dislike a movie where Michael Caine bronco-rides a giant bumblebee? 

Grade: B -