Jean-Claude Van Damme is a man known for roundhouse kicking people into oblivion, not making audiences laugh (well, not intentionally), but that doesn’t mean the iconic action star isn’t up for the challenge! Welcome To The Jungle sees Van Damme’s first purely comedic role, as he plays a motivational leader of sorts conducting a big-business team building “vacation” on a remote tropical island. He’s still a badass hero and his martial arts expertise are still called upon, but Van Damme cleverly indicates he’s keen on the satirical joke – unfortunately, he might be the only one. In the words of Guns N’ Roses vocalist Axl Rose, “Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun n’ games” – minus most of the “fun n’ games.”
Welcome To The Jungle isn’t your typical office get-together, which our newly stranded castaways are about to find out. Following their guide Storm (Van Damme) deep into a rich, luscious jungle, these office drones are expecting a trip full of team building exercises and icebreakers, but panic sets in when their pilot is found dead. To make matters worse, Storm has a particularly dangerous encounter with a ferocious tiger, and his disappearance leaves the group to fend for themselves. Typical nobody Chris (Adam Brody) is selected as unofficial leader because of his Boy Scout training, but resident ego maniac Phil (Rob Huebel) doesn’t take kindly to following him. Bribing his co-workers with meat and coffee, he turns the “tribe” against Chris, banishing him and his few friends to the other side of the island. Working against one another, rescue becomes a second thought to survival – will these vacationers ever get back to work again?
Could JCVD possibly have carried Welcome To The Jungle on his burly, still freakishly muscular back? There’s a small possibility that his thickly accented one-liners could have kept audiences consistently entertained, but his vanishing act for most of the tribal warfare means we’re left watching a supporting cast that tries their best – but struggles to bring lively laughs to a generic, dull, R-rated comedy script.
Having a comedic film this laughless is utterly criminal considering comedians like Kristen Schaal and Rob Huebel are fighting for their lives, but any jokes landed are eventually overused, deserving an eternity in the “Pit of Shame.” Repeatedly forcing Schaal to curse or giving Huebel his typical loud, obnoxious, inappropriate lines absolutely garners initial laughs, but after the billionth time that Schaal vulgarly describes the “shit” brewing in her intestines, the “magic” is lost.
Welcome To The Jungle is juvenile silliness incarnate, turning schlubs into savages, which of course becomes second rate once the orgies start and people begin chanting for death. I get the introduction of hallucinogenic drugs, but I’m pretty sure these influences still wouldn’t turn mild-mannered people into bloodthirsty lunatics. Then Adam Brody fashions homemade wings and gracefully floats down from a cliff ledge without even flapping – and this is where director Rob Meltzer and writer Jeff Kauffmann lost me. The concept of brainless fun is not something lost on my simpleton mind, but repetitive gags and ill-conceived dialogue strive to be too quotable – forcing ridiculousness into an entirely pedestrian film.
Don’t blame Adam Brody, Eric Edelstein, or any of our characters though – they try. Traversing nimbly through such a treacherous jungle requires a certain level of immersion, and each character displays certain levels of likability. Even so, we still can’t help but wish JCVD would pop in and save us from redundancy. Kick a tree down, let out a primal scream, punch an endangered species in the face – anything would have been better than stereotypical moments like spying on naked female co-workers through binoculars – nice try with the booby distraction, Welcome To The Jungle.
While hearing that the most memorable moments of Welcome To The Jungle depict Jean-Claude Van Damme fighting a tiger in hand to claw combat may cause momentary excitement, let me assure you there’s not much else to remember. Movies like Severance have already brought life to “just another bloody office outing,” but Meltzer’s attempt is lacking a ferocious bite. Welcome To The Jungle just doesn’t stack up as a worthwhile comedy, and even though JCVD is usually the savior, not even a universal soldier can rescue Adam Brody and others from such a mundane, forgettable fate.
Welcome To The Jungle strands audiences on a deserted island without food, shelter, or any real form of entertainment - a fate not even action-star-turned-comedian Jean-Claude Van Damme can save us from.