Welcome to the Jungle
2014 - 95 minutes
Rated: No MPAA rating
Directed by:Rob Meltzer
Written by:Jeff Kauffmann
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Adam Brody, Rob Huebel, Megan Boone, Kristen Schaal, Eric Edelstein
Welcome to the Jungle starts with a dispute over the design of toilet paper packaging and, once in the actual jungle, contains several references to doing your business in and around your campsite. It’s not that the film is an offensive gross out comedy, just one that almost always attempts to take the easy route to lukewarm laughs. The premise of officemates being transplanted to a deserted island is a promising one – and certainly nightmare-inducing for those of us ever trapped in corporate hell – but the potential is foregone in favor of low-hanging fruit.
Dutiful Chris (Adam Brody) works at a marketing firm where windbag Phil (Rob Huebel) first mocks and then steals his idea for a new toilet paper logo, earning the favor of CEO Crawford (Dennis Haysbert). If that wasn’t enough, he gets tongue-tied around his office crush Lisa (Megan Boone); lamenting to pal and scruffy IT tech Jared (Eric Edelstein) that he’ll never muster the courage to ask her out.
Crawford gathers his underlings to announce a unique team-building exercise that will test their skills, and rumors quickly swirl the outcome will determine upcoming cutbacks. Led by former military man Storm Rothschild (Jean-Claude Van Damme) – who it seems goes nowhere without his camouflage cargo pants, tank top, and machete – the crew will head to a remote island to grow and bond. Storm is quickly revealed as a cartoonish fraud, and after their elderly pilot dies the group has no way home. Stepping up as a leader with extensive Boy Scout accomplishments, Chris eases tensions temporarily until a jealous Phil steps in, using fear and a hallucinogenic herb to turn himself into a god-like tribal king. Chris, Lisa, Jared, and Jared’s rapidly on-again, off-again love interest Brenda (Kristen Schaal) find themselves the rational ones ostracized from the Lord of the Flies madness, trying to find rescue.
What could be an identifiable farce of office politics and characters gets lost in the machinations of a threadbare plot. There’s too much focus on things like radio repair and flare guns to explore the exaggerated personalities of the castaways. There are a few subtle touches that accentuate known behaviors – a scene where Phil leads around his lackey and office “yes-man” (Aaron Takahashi) around the island with a leash made from vines is slyly funny – but most of the action is too broad to be bitingly relatable. There are narrative musts to sort out – Chris’ inevitable impressing of Lisa and the constant bickering of Jared and Brenda to set up their reconciliation – which also slow things down unnecessarily.
Van Damme is a wildcard that adds the limited amount comedic steam to the film. Aping his stoic action film hero, his equally stoic comedy performance finds the right balance of self-aware and self-contained. He doesn’t come off as trying to be too jokey, just finding the humor in his persona. Brody is fine as Chris, giving an improvisational feel to his foibles, but his arc of nervous zero to conquering hero is tired. Huebel is okay in small doses as Phil, but his routine is so smug it gets repetitive and boring quickly. Everyone else is just there as jungle dressing.
A few jokes hit, but most fall flat and feel played out. A lack of focus from director Rob Meltzer and first-time screenwriter Jeff Kauffmann leave Welcome to the Jungle meandering when it could’ve been a sharp observation of co-workers in distress.
© 2014 by Blake Crane