Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth Is a Ride You Might Want to Think About Taking

Brendan Fraser has a special gift that most actors, even the best ones, don't have. He makes bad movies palatable and sometimes even entertaining. In fact, Fraser has built a career out of this gift, with a long string of so-so movies like Encino Man, Airheads, George of the Jungle, and the spectacularly silly Mummy/Mummy Returns franchise. Brendan Fraser was the best part of each of these movies. Personally, I think this should make him the most valuable acting talent in Hollywood. Instead, he remains the B-grade actor that producers hire when they need a recognizable face to put on posters. That's what I imagine happened with his latest, Journey to the Center of the Earth.

In Journey, an adaptation of Jules Verne's classic sci-fi novel, Fraser plays Trevor. Trevor's character is about as multi-dimensional as a log, but, hey, he looks like this actor we all know named Brendan Fraser, right? Trevor is also a geophysicist who works in a lab that was once run by his brother who, as bad luck would have it, disappeared ten years ago during a visit to Iceland. When Trevor's nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson) -- a predictably video-game-obsessed kid with an attitude -- arrives for a visit, he brings with him a box of his missing father's stuff. Including a copy of Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. This is the movie's one stroke of genius; rather than adapt the novel by unnaturally forcing it into the modern day, the script suggests that the novel itself is really a coded map of sorts to the actual center of the earth. (Treasure hunting is cinematically hip again thanks to Dan Brown and National Treasure.) Apparently there are such things as "Vernians," men and women who believe Verne's stories were all true. Trevor's brother was one of these nutjobs. The book also helps Trevor make sense of some recent geological data from unstable regions of the world, and he decides he must race to Iceland to confirm his findings -- which means, you guessed it, Sean comes along for the ride. Once there, they find a guide, Hannah (Anita Briem), to take them to the sensor Trevor needs to check. A storm hits, they take shelter in a cave, and -- you guessed it again, they find the way to the center of the earth. It's not Shakespeare, folks. It's just a simple-minded movie for kids, with Fraser along for the ride to add levity to the proceedings. More than that, by never acting down to the material, Fraser actually anchors the increasingly outrageous scenarios with some modicum of reality.

Once at the center of the earth, our three heroes encounter everything from giant mushrooms to flying piranha to carnivorous plants to a Tyrannosaurus Rex -- all in impressive 3-D. Thank God for the 3-D, too, because the CGI is otherwise ludicrously cheap looking. Director Eric Brevig spends too much time reminding audiences that things like fish and mouthwash can fly at their faces, but, for the most part, he uses the new medium well, making up for the otherwise G-rated action sequences. Fraser should be getting better parts than this, more like his wonderful roles in Gods and Monsters and The Quiet American, but it's hard to fault the guy for treating even the crappy parts with respect.

Grade: C+