Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)

14 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Jungle 2 Jungle” is the American remake of a notably terrible French comedy called “Little Indian, Big City,” and it should be noted that if you’re going to remake a movie, it’s probably best to remake a terrible one and make many adjustments for an improvement. While “Jungle 2 Jungle” isn’t necessarily a good movie, it does have its moments, which is more than I could say for the original film. This one is more mediocre than it is god-awful.

Tim Allen, the likable funnyman from TV’s “Home Improvement” (and fittingly enough, this movie is directed by John Pasquin, who has directed many episodes of that show), stars as…well, let’s face it—Tim Allen.

OK, his name is Michael Cromwell, but you’re never going to call him that.

He’s a stockbroker who wants to marry his materialistic girlfriend (poorly played by Lolita Davidovich). But in order to do so, he needs to finalize the divorce from his ex-wife Patricia (Jobeth Williams), who ran out on him thirteen years ago because he didn’t listen to her very much. Allen (er, Michael) is supposed to meet her at the airport in Venezuela, but is instead taken to a semi-Westernized Panari tribe in Canaima National Park, whom Patricia has been living with all this time. Upon arriving, Patricia reveals the news that Michael has a thirteen-year-old son named Mimi-Siku (Sam Huntington).

While staying with the tribe for a little while, Michael attempts to bond with his son after all these years of him not knowing about him. Mimi-Siku (whose name means “cat piss”—it was stupid in the original film and it’s as stupid in this remake) goes through a rite of passage that makes him a man (consider it the Panare equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah) and is given a task to go to New York City and bring back fire from the Statue of Liberty, which means Michael has to take him back to the city with him.

And thus, we have the comedic fish-out-of-water tale. Michael takes Mimi to the city, as Mimi has a hard time fitting in. He dresses the same as with the jungle tribe, shoots a bow and arrow at any pigeon that comes around, climbs alongside buildings at many stories up, scales the Statue of Liberty, and mistakes a lot of things for something else. He also has brought along his giant pet spider that attacks anyone who screams at it. (How Michael was talked into letting him bring that along is beyond me.) It traps the girlfriend in the bathroom because she can’t stop screaming at it and Mimi even sets it loose on his dad’s screaming boss.

And there’s also a dart blowgun that knocks people out instantly…how that got past airport security is beyond me. But it, along with the spider, is used for joke setups—only one of which I found kind of funny. I normally am not all for animal abuse, but the case of the girlfriend’s cat being hit by one of the darts and falling down like a rock got a laugh out of me.

With the exception of different locations (it’s New York City instead of Paris, France this time), the story is pretty much the same as the original. But certain aspects are deftly improved from the original—I laughed at a few good jokes, despite how predictable most of them were. And I surprisingly found myself invested in the family drama. Allen and the kid share a few good conversation scenes together, and there’s also a scene in which they’re dancing to street performers that I surprisingly enjoyed, despite its corniness.

What doesn’t work well is a whole subplot involving Allen and his partner, well-played by a nervously paranoid Martin Short, making deals (and misunderstandings) with the Russian Mafia, led by a cartoonish David Ogden Stiers. This leads to an uninspired climax in which they must fight them off when they take Short’s family hostage, after the Mafia thinks they’ve been cheated—the spider and blowgun come in handy here, of course.

Most of the comedy in “Jungle 2 Jungle” is more desperate than funny, particularly the slapstick humor (save for a few slight chuckles). And there are occasional repeats of the same joke, mostly involving the spider. They’re overused.

Also, I have to ask—with all these misunderstandings involving Mimi in the city, why is Michael the only one responsible for him, when Patricia should have come along to make sure he’s given the proper care? I guess it’s because she has to be with the tribe, but this is her 13-year-old son that’s going to a strange place. Sort out your priorities, lady.

“Jungle 2 Jungle” has a few good moments and has learned from the original’s mistakes in some certain ways, but the film is never as clever as we’d like it to be and fails in comparison to other fish-out-of-water stories; in fact, there were times when I was thinking that its main intention was to rip off “Crocodile Dundee.” This isn’t “Crocodile Dundee,” but I wish it wasn’t supposed to be.

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