A title people associate with a children’s story here comes across as an ambitious hybrid of Greystoke and Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom. Unlike the 1942 version starring Sabu, or Disney’s animated ’60s classic, this Jungle Book seeks a more modern tone. One wonders where the movie is going before it dramatically shifts gears into a full-throttled, technically superb adventure – with more bite than most Disney live-action fare – that offers some winning moments but, ultimately, isn’t as involving as it needs to be.
For one thing, the narrative [by Ronald Yanover and Mark D. Geldman] keeps changing gears – from nature film to love story to actioner. At the age of 5, Mowgli, the son of an Indian guide, gets lost in the jungle and is raised by animals. Soon he becomes a young man (the lithesome Jason Scott Lee), again encountering Kitty (Lena Headey), the young British girl with whom he’d played as a boy.
In section two, Kitty tries to incorporate Mowgli into society, angering Boone (Cary Elwes), a suitor who’s also an officer in her father’s regiment. Finally, and most effectively, a quest begins to find a lost city filled with treasure, as Mowgli seeks to save his beloved from Boone and her captors.
What ultimately drives the movie is the love story, in true beauty-and-the-beast fashion. Director Stephen Sommers serves up a visual feast of beautiful animals and spectacular vistas (shot largely in Jodhpur, India). Lee is such a striking presence physically that he needn’t do much but look happy or baffled, while Headey is at best a passable lure to bring the boy out of the jungle.