Movie News & Reviews

Plot inside 'Journey to Center of the Earth' leaves gaping holes

As a movie critic, I sometimes have to make some pretty major sacrifices.

Like this weekend, I had to sacrifice seeing the new Eddie Murphymovie, which is certain to be enjoyable terrible, for Journey tothe Center of the Earth, which had a chance to be sweet. Instead,it was mildly entertaining, but mostly so silly I have to sacrifice therest of this introduction to give me the space to properly unpack itbelow.

Ten years ago, geologist Brendan Fraser's brother died mysteriously onan expedition to check out some unusual volcanic activity in Iceland.When that same activity returns, Fraser bolts to Iceland toinvestigate, dragging with him nephew John Hutcherson and meeting upwith local guide Anita Briem.

High on a mountain, a storm traps the three inside an old mineshaft.The expedition turns south in a big way when the shaft collapses,dumping the three of them into the center of the earth, a land ofglowing birds and prehistoric beasts. But there's no time tosightsee: volcanic activity is heating the core up in a hurry, and ifthey don't find a way out, they'll be cooked alive.

Which makes for a snazzy excuse to reel off a series of daring escapesfrom dinosaurs, floating rocks, and hot hot heat, all of which isrendered in impressive 3-D. Depth might be the third dimension inname, but it'll always be first in my heart. Even when Journey tothe Center of the Earth busts out the hoary "kid playing with ayo-yo" 3-D, a trick so old Methuselah himself complained about itthrough several pages of the Bible (it's near the back), it looksgreat. There's nothing quite like a movie that makes you feel likeyou're literally being visually assaulted.

Other than that, though, Journey's list of virtues is pretty thin.

It does have Fraser, whose ability to throw himself into the silliestof roles automatically improves any movie he's in. But he would haveto be the Superman of acting -- able to fly into space, slam down intoHollywood, and single-handedly reverse the direction of a movie'srotation -- to do anything with this script.

Writer Michael Weiss now has one more feather in his cap to matchrecent classics like The Butterfly Effect 2 and I'll AlwaysKnow What You Did Last Summer. Journey's characters aredull, its exposition is bludgeoning, and its plot can't decide whetherto be made from paper or pure distilled ridicuhol.

On the paper-thin side, one of its subplots revolves around the ideaJules Verne's original novel wasn't fiction, but a factual account ofa man's journey deep inside the earth. I don't know whether this issupposed to be some Da Vinci Code-esque thriller element orwhat, but I do know it adds nothing, goes nowhere, and actually makesme suspicious they just threw it in to pretend one of their productionassistants did read the book at some point. (I'm not throwing stones,I haven't read it either. At least I have the excuse of illiteracy,though. In fact, I'm dictating this to a dog who wears a prostheticnose-glove and is trained not to shed on the keyboard.)

The ridiculous side can only be tackled by the patented List of ThingsThat Make No Sense. Think I'd forgotten about the List? Wrong! Ithink about the List daily. I daydream love letters to it while I'mat work. I just never get to use it because most movies avoidgalaxy-sized plot holes.

Without further ado: 1) Other than providing the foundation for atheme park ride, why exactly do you need to use a speeding mine cartto get out of an abandoned mine? Careering around on an undergroundrailroad that hasn't been used in a century may be a kickass goodtime, sure, but considering humans come equipped with the marvel offeet, shouldn't it strike a professor like Fraser as unnecessarilydangerous?

2) Fraser's brother, who died in the center of the earth (don't worry,that isn't a spoiler), is found buried in a damn grave. Who buriedhim?!! A kindly T-Rex? Tourists? A 9-year-old on his way toChina? No one could have buried him, that's who, so it makes no sensehe's entombed in a tidy grave rather than lying as a pile of exposedbones and tattered Eddie Bauer fleeces. 3) So the center of the earthsometimes gets so hot it boils water and cooks humans alive, yet it'sfilled with flora and fauna that haven't existed for tens of millionsof years because they were such evolutionary chumps they were wipedout by a simple thing like a miles-wide meteor. Movies make dinosaursout to be scary monsters, but I say they're effing chumps. Mammalsrule.

Yet somehow, these dinosaurs -- who are, remember, weak as akitten -- have survived a repeated geothermal apocalypse for 65 million+years. Maybe it's in the book, I don't know. Still, it feelsHollywoodized, and trust me, "Hollywoodized" is not one of thoseflattering adjectives.

Plot holes can be overlooked if the movie's having fun. But with nocharacter chemistry, CG that's average at best, and a minimum ofhumor, Journey's couple decent action scenes and 3-D joltsaren't enough to distract you from the heaping piles of mediocritydragging it down at every turn.

Grade: C-