Are Bulgarian action movies starring Val Kilmer and 50 Cent on the decline? Welcome to the Jungle is the second workplace comedy I've reviewed in the past year with a cast of recognizable faces that ended up going direct-to-video. That may not represent much of a pattern, but both operated on the same principle as a direct-to-video action movie: pack it with some movie stars, hide the limited budget, and hope some of the jokes thrown at the wall manage to stick. In that regard, Jungle rates much higher than Demoted, but it still isn't very good.
Chris (Adam Brody) is a low-level stooge at a design firm who desperately wants to leap up the corporate ladder. The enemy of progress is Phil (Rob Huebel), a dumb, arrogant co-worker who has the eye of CEO Mr. Crawford(Dennis Haysbert), and a loyal lapdog in Troy (Aaron Takahashi) to agree with every one of his dumb decisions. Chris really gets angry when Phil steals one of Chris' designs and lands a big client with it, but before he can raise a real stink over it, Mr. Crawford introduces everyone to Storm Rothchild (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a former military man who will lead the entire office on a mandatory wilderness retreat, designed to encourage teamwork and help the staff develop intestinal fortitude.
Frankly, this is a fine premise for a comedy, potentially even a semi-great one. The cast, which also includes Kristen Schaal as the rabbit-loving Brenda, Eric Edelstein as Chris' best friend / Brenda's ex-boyfriend Jared, and Megan Boone as Lisa, the girl of Chris' dreams, is more than capable, and of course Van Damme is the big draw, having proven over the years that he's more than willing to poke fun at himself, and even pretty good at it. Yet Welcome to the Jungle is insistently formless, meandering along without any drive or reason. The story makes semi-logical sense, but none of the film's rivalries or plot mechanics ever grab hold. Developments occur without any sense of build or rhythm. Exposition is dropped so casually I found myself remembering up to ten minutes after the fact that certain developments were actually set up. It's a strangely nebulous film, occurring more than unfolding.
The film's core problem is tone, stemming from Huebel's performance. Anyone who's seen "Childrens Hospital" knows that Huebel can be very funny with the right material, but director Rob Meltzer refuses to reign him in, and the screenplay by Jeff Kauffman gives him nothing but one single grating note to play over and over. His villainy depends on a cartoon logic, but Brody, Boone, and Edelstein play their roles like normal human beings; there's no real way to reconcile scenes of Chris and Jared trying to repair a radio with the reveal that Phil has used hallucinogenic plants to regress everyone back to a caveman state, wielding spears and speaking in broken English. Chris and Phil's conflict is never less than painfully contrived, driven by necessity rather than character.
Thankfully, even as stunt casting, Van Damme is entertaining following a rocky start, almost in spite of Meltzer and Kauffman's efforts. It's a smaller role, offering the Muscles from Brussels the same amount of screen time as some of the less-important office mates, but his oddball charm shines through when, say, Schaal's character is rubbing his ears, comforting him exactly like one of her pet rabbits, or when he breaks into a moment between Chris and Lisa to offer some incredibly familiar words of advice. Every minute he's on screen hints at the bizarre pleasures that Welcome to the Jungle ought to capitalize on, but doesn't. It's hard to say exactly what it is Welcome to the Jungle is doing wrong, because it doesn't seem to know what it's doing in the first place.
Welcome to the Jungle arrives on Blu-Ray with a Photoshop collage of the cast standing (or perhaps being fanned out like a hand of playing cards) in a digital jungle. The one-disc Blu-Ray release comes in a standard Amaray packed inside a glossy, embossed slipcover, and there is a sheet inside the case with the film's UltraViolet Digital Copy code.
The Video and Audio
Universal offers Welcome to the Jungle on Blu-Ray with a 2.39:1 1080p AVC video transfer and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The star of this disc is definitely the latter, which gets some great surround thundering and rumbling right out of the gate with a heavy percussive "jungle" score. A rattling plane offers some stunningly authentic acoustics, and island action sequences (including an explosive-laden obstacle course) are lively and unexpectedly nuanced. The PQ only comes in second place because the sharpness, depth, detail, and dimension displayed on the disc is, while excellent, to be expected of a 2013 digital production. Even in wide shots, skin texture is apparent, to say nothing of wide shots. Colors inside the office are intentionally muted, but the palette bursts with natural vibrancy once the characters reach the island. The transfer even captures the flecks on a dirty windshield early in the film. On the A/V front, this is a flawless Blu-Ray disc. French, Spanish (both Castilian and Latin), Italian, and Thai DTS 5.1 mixes are also packed onto the disc, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, French, Spanish (Castilian and Latin), Italian, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Icelandic, Cantonese, Thai, and traditional Mandarin subtitles are also included.
Two extras are included. "Behind-the-Scenes" (59:13) turns out to be an unexpectedly lengthy documentary, including tons of B-roll, nary a single clip, and a number of on-set interviews. The best material is right up-front -- Van Damme is utterly wonderful to watch in all his eccentricities, not to mention this reveals he did the bird calls in a scene live, on set, using his own mouth. Mighty impressive. This is followed by a solitary deleted scene (1:25) (correctly identified as singular on the package, but as plural on the menu). Both are presented in HD.
Major Van Damme fans will undoubtedly get a few kicks -- ho ho -- out of his endearingly goofy performance here, and will want to rent it. It's a shame the rest of the movie isn't as funny as he is.
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