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Saturday, February 11, 2012

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 11 February 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzmán, Kristin Davis
Director: Brad Peyton
Rating: 1 star
Michael Caine’s voice tells us something about mysterious islands being real. Next, we see a kid doing stunts on a bike in slow mo. Marry ESPN’s X Games to the graphics of the Flash Gordon movies, and you have the opening sequence. Troubled teen Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) tries to force his way into a satellite tower; cops hand him over to his stepdad Hank (The Rock), who’s poker buddies with them. His whiny mother Liz (Kristin Davis, better known as Charlotte-from-Sex-and-the-City) can’t get him to tell her why he was breaking the law, and the cops don’t really care. Overcrowding in prisons, I guess, and Sean’s not very pretty.
Hank decides to be the man in Sean’s life, and helps him crack some bizarre Vernian code that translates into Morse code – don’t ask, you’ll be lost for most of the film if you aren’t a Vernian. They quote chapters and paragraphs from Verne almost Biblically. Anyway, when your heroes are a Navy veteran and a stepson who’s even dumber than he, do you really care about the plot? They run around searching an attic library for the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift and Jules Verne, and turning an ancient globe to locate coordinates, when they’ve got an iPad. Hank’s wisdom is showcased through a geography-for-idiots lesson he gives Sean, about how latitude and longitude are represented.
These two take off to Palau Island, where even the fish look fake, and where most people have American accents, because the official language is English. Strike One, Hollywood. They meet Johnny Lever lookalike Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), whom Gabato uses to entice tourists into his rickety helicopter. They head into an island that seems to be an imagining of what would happen if the Na’vi went to Hogwarts, and is populated by Grandpa Anderson (Michael Caine).
With over-the-top music that sounds borrowed, the film feels incredibly low-budget. The cheesy dialogues may well have been ad-libbed. Case in point: “We’re literally walking on eggshells”. You know a film sucks when The Rock is the best actor in it – at least until Caine walks into the mix. Then, there’s some (possibly metaphysical) alpha male competition between them, which largely comprises barbs fourth-graders could toss at each other. They’re probably going to be stranded for a couple of weeks, and Anderson Senior suggests Liz may remarry in that time – and going by the concern she’s displayed thus far for her family, you’re not sure he’s joking.
Thankfully, the film’s short. But since the trailer gave away the cheap thrills, it plays out like a never-ending, boring dream – only, you know there’s no chance it will morph into a different landscape. The high point of the film is an improvised version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, and that’s ruined by a sad back-story right after. Whaddya know, Hank has Daddy Issues.
Every now and again, I could hear Hindi songs from the nineties playing in my head – and not even the good ones. I’m talking Nazrein MiliYeh Silsila Hai Pyaar KaAa Ab Laut Chalen and their ilk. And then they find a book with instructions in Devanagiri. Seriously, a nod to Macondo? That’s followed by sequences seemingly inspired from 7Aum ArivuGuna, and Dostana 
Now, I was lucky to catch this tepid wannabe adventure in 2D, and I imagine you’ll have butterflies, birds and debris comin’ atcha in 3D. As it stands, I was distracted by the pearly whites The Rock keeps flashing. I half-expected a credit line to his toothpaste, and instead, found an inexplicable one to his hairstylist.
The Verdict: When you learn The Rock had a hairstylist, you figure out what this movie really is – a tax write-off. With the depressing promise of a sequel to this disaster, I’m tempted to quote Rowan Atkinson from Blackadder in saying, “I think it rhymes with clucking bell.”


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