Jungle 2 Jungle

(John Pasquin, USA, 1997)


Stories of the bond between fathers and sons went big on cinema screens in the late '90s. Those disadvantaged by a male-dominated world may argue that such patriarchal moral tales have always reigned supreme. But since the '80s pop culture has fixated on a specific variation of this archetypal tale: the personal journey of a bad, modern father who must learn to be less of an egocentric, plundering capitalist and discover, for the first time, his nurturing side.

Hot on the heels of Jim Carrey's Liar, Liar (1997) came another father-son movie, this one cursed with the least explicable title of its year – Jungle 2 Jungle. It is a vehicle for television's Home Improvement star Tim Allen. He plays Michael, a fast-talking commodities trader whose haste to settle divorce proceedings lands him unexpectedly on an exotic native island – where he learns that he has a teenage son, Mimi-Siku (Sam Huntington).

This pale, witless movie brings out the grouchy ideologue in me. Almost every joke centres on Michael's brittle, WASP-type reactions to the supposedly primitive customs and culture around him: everything from foreign food and accents to quaint sexual practices. The script pretends to bring our harassed hero to a point of acceptance and understanding of all things different, but it never stops exploiting this offensive line of xenophobic humour.

It is par for the course in contemporary redeemed-Dad movies that women rarely get a look-in – indeed, they are often actively demonised as ball-breaking, home-destroying career girls. Michael's errant wife Patricia (JoBeth Williams) does not quite suffer this indignity. But her general insignificance in this film is guaranteed by the most odious New Age principle of the Men's Movement: once guys get in touch with their "feminine side", they scarcely need women around at all anymore.

At any rate, this is Allen's show right down the line. As in Jim Carrey's movies, every scene here is devised to show off Allen's mugging and his droll, one-liner put-downs. On the big screen, however, Allen is a sluggish, unlovely presence: he has little aptitude for physical gags, and zero sex appeal.

Only the jokes about animals and insects are fun. A spider which, in scene after scene, scuttles busily and murderously towards whichever character is shouting the loudest raises a couple of laughs. And a bit of business involving a limp, unconscious cat recalls the low clowning with dead or comatose bodies that enlivens movies such as Weekend at Bernie's (1989). But when it duly returns to its father-son lessons, Jungle 2 Jungle loses all comic steam.

© Adrian Martin June 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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