The way Brendan Fraser's going he'll probably end up as president some day. The Indiana native is this generation's Ronald Reagan; a hunky blank slate who seems equally happy in a Gods and Monsters or a Monkeybone. Recently seen as a brooding hit man in the dark indie film The Air I Breathe, Fraser plays Trevor in Journey to the Center of the Earth, an update on the science-fiction classic. Though there's an admirable amount of range to be found in these two roles, their lack of connection outside of being lackluster choices also has a whiff of casual indifference.
Set in contemporary times and decked out in the latest 3-D technology, the action-adventure Journey goes for eye-popping visuals while leaving little room for modulated performances. Fraser answers this call of limited duty with a sincere display in an otherwise over-the-top scenario, but his professionalism can also come across as that of an automaton, exacerbating the movie's mechanical, assembly-line approach and lack of feeling.
Rather than adapt the source material, the movie imagines its characters have read Jules Verne's book and are now following it as a guide to poking around in giant volcanic elevators. Through some plodding backstory, scientist Trevor has found himself on the precipice of a crevasse in a remote part of Iceland with his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and a comely escort (Anita Briem) they picked up on the way. Falling into a giant hole leading hundreds of miles below the surface, they must find a way out past all the illustrations in their copy of the book, including man-eating plants, man-eating fish, and man-eating dinosaurs.
Fraser is the name actor in a cast of relative unknowns, but the true star of the movie is the Real D Cinema 3D technology, which makes a twittering trilobite's antennae seem to undulate over your head. Fraser is a tried-and-true actor for this kind of job, essentially a good-looking yelper on such a roller-coaster movie that it has literal roller-coaster rides. Certainly there are differences in the screams and arm flailing an actor must come up with for, say, falling down a vertical shaft or racing on a mining cart through a horizontal one. And acting in front of green screens is not as easy as it seems silly. We can assume everyone worked a little for their paycheck.
They are not helped, however, by a filmmaking team entirely uninterested in anything but neat visuals (so much that continuity is frequently broken with comic results). While it's true you might not go to a movie like this hoping for serious discussion on underground brontosauruses, pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo is the spice of this kind of material, and most actors are happy to chew on it. Here, they go hungry. Trevor's observation of the red stuff at the bottom of a volcano shaft is typical of the level of discourse: "It's lava. Magma." Being so obvious may make Fraser sound more presidential, but it doesn't make Journey to the Center of the Earth any more interesting.
Genre: Action Adventure
Directed by: Eric Brevig
Written by: Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem