The grinding pressure of modern life comes face to face with a simpler, more primitive way of living in the antic “Jungle 2 Jungle.” A melange of “How to Succeed in Business” and “The Wild Child,” with a smattering of “Secrets & Lies,” it’s a cut-and-paste job shaped for the comic sensibilities of star Tim Allen and a host of supporting players. Apart from a few P.C. glitches, pic is a warmhearted family outing that should do decent mid-range business but lacks the flare or originality to be a breakout hit.
Based on the French smash “Indian in the City,” the Americanization, adapted by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, makes modest changes to its source material. Michael Cromwell (Allen) is a commodities broker on Wall Street who’s just cornered the market on coffee futures. No sooner said than done, he’s on a jet to Venezuela to finally get his divorce papers from his long-errant wife, Patricia (JoBeth Williams), a doctor ministering to a tribe in the rain forest. He anticipates a quick turnaround, enabling him to sell off the coffee at a hefty profit and make final arrangements for his marriage to Charlotte (Lolita Davidovich), a fashion designer with attitude.
But nothing quite goes according to plan.
Arriving in Caracas, Michael learns from a local lawyer that his wife has been detained and he’ll have to go up river to see her. Venturing deep into the jungle, he arrives at the camp of the Pinare, an Indian band untouched by modern civilization. While Patricia puts up no resistance to signing the documents, she has a bombshell for her soon-to-be ex. When she departed due to his inattention, Patricia neglected to tell him that she was pregnant — and that odd-looking 13-year-old boy in loin cloth is his son. In part, getting him to the village was a ruse to introduce father and son and allow Michael to share in the boy’s native equivalent of a bar mitzvah.
It should come as no surprise that the child-resistant Michael quickly bonds with Mimi-Siku (Sam Huntington). On a fishing outing, it’s agreed the boy will visit his father’s jungle when he becomes “a man.” But Michael — dubbed “Baboon” for his hirsute qualities — isn’t quite prepared that the moment will occur that evening. Nonetheless, a promise is a promise, and the two fly off on the great silver bird.
While obviously a warning about losing one’s humanity to an ultra-industrial age, “Jungle 2 Jungle” barely evinces a “Dumb and Dumber” sophistication, albeit a sanitized one. As with the earlier film, there’s a strong reliance on bathroom humor, largely at the boy’s expense. This fish out of water is meant to be cute and endearing in his naivete: His survival needs are put to the test among a Manhattan sect that tends to shock easily when its tropical fish are roasted or potted palms are used for the relief of bodily functions.
The story attempts the tricky balance of extolling the noble savage without being condescending. Arguably, that is handled better here than in the French version, but only marginally.
Allen has perfected the role of the presumably calm center in the storm. When he loses control, the results are often riotous. But he’s rapidly evolving into a sedentary presence, and that lack of physical comedy proves disappointing in this mix.
As a result, the hyperactivity of Martin Short, as his anxious business partner, are heightened. Always a delight to watch, Short winds up giving too much to compensate for the star’s low-key turn. Ultimately, it’s Huntington who anchors the story in a manner that is credible and heartfelt.
An extremely handsome physical production, with breathtaking Venezuelan vistas by Tony Pierce-Roberts, “Jungle 2 Jungle” is an otherwise modest effort. Simple truths are often the most effective, but in this instance they are only banal and mildly amusing.