Review: Nothing can rescue ‘Welcome to the Jungle’
Jean-Claude Van Damme — don’t! Don’t go into the jungle!
No matter what the title says, there is no welcome waiting for you.
Before the nonsensical “Welcome to the Jungle” is barely underway, the “Universal Soldier” goes sadly soft; Van Damme’s Storm is reduced to a whimpering shower.
There is no “Double Impact” where he is concerned, or really any impact.
The former black-ops hero he plays is now a corporate consultant brought in to run a weekend team-building retreat for a packaging-design company whose main client appears to be toilet paper. Consider that a tip-off as to where things are headed.
The retreat takes place on a deserted tropical island. The details really don’t matter. What does, is that the pilot dies immediately — he is the lucky one. It leaves the squabbling office staff lost. Not “Lost,” with all kinds of plot twists and island secrets. Just lost.
Fortunately, most of the women packed bikinis and one of the guys has binoculars. And, really, when you’re stranded on a deserted island, doesn’t swimming sound like a lot more fun than fire-starting?
It doesn’t take long for people to go native in the worst possible ways.
Director Rob Meltzer and screenwriter Jeff Kauffmann are making their feature film debuts. It is difficult to tell whether the filmmakers intended “Welcome to the Jungle” as a satire or a farce. It is neither funny enough, nor clever enough, to measure up in either case.
The conflict pits Adam Brody’s nice guy Chris against his office nemesis Phil (Rob Huebel), a jerk who starts out the film by stealing Chris’ creative idea for packaging said toilet paper. Their relationship really goes south once they’re on the island.
There’s a girl. Isn’t there always? In this case it is Lisa, played by Megan Boone, who is currently the far more upscale and interesting opposite to James Spader in the NBC drama series “The Blacklist.” She is arguably the best at holding down the fort in the “Jungle,” if for no other reason than she actually seems slightly real.
Brody, a popular vet of the beachy soap “The O.C.” and the 2009 cult horror hit “Jennifer’s Body,” comes close. He’s just nerdy enough to be somewhat appealing.
Everyone else is reaching for extremes. Kristen Schaal, playing office weirdo Brenda, is the only one who can be forgiven the stretch, since that’s exactly what the character comic is so often paid to do.
What propels the action along is the choice the staffers make on whom they will follow: former Boy Scout Chris or the dastardly Phil, who is already doing a lot of chest beating. It’s not a surprise who is crowned king. Many skirmishes ensue. The effects are not so much special as low tech. I think Phil’s war paint might have been self-applied.
Still, cosmic questions loom. Will Chris be able to turn the tide? Will Storm turn into a hurricane, or some kind of weather pattern more befitting a martial arts champ? Will they ever get off the island? To tell might spoil the fun, if there were any to spoil.
Corrected: An earlier version of this review incorrectly said the 1997 romantic comedy “A Jewish Christmas Story” was director Rob Meltzer’s feature film debut. That film was a short.
‘Welcome to the Jungle’
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: At Noho 7, North Hollywood; also on VOD
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