"Journey to the Center of the Earth," a 2008 kiddie version of the Jules Verne novel, had its slender charms, thanks to some playful visuals and the always-game Brendan Fraser as an avuncular adventurer. Neither is around in the sequel, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," which instead offers giant rocks clearly made of Styrofoam and Dwayne Johnson, who fits the same description.
What happened? Fraser, ostensibly unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, isn't the only one who apparently abandoned ship. Eric Brevig, the special-effects whiz and debut director of the first film, is replaced by Brad Peyton ("Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore"), who makes everything look like a school craft project, and the new writers (Brian and Mark Gunn) have created a script that's as compelling as an appliance manual. Only Josh Hutcherson, the future star of "The Hunger Games," returns, and his brooding features and newly sculpted body (flashed for us briefly) give him the look of a young adult ready to move on.
Hutcherson plays sullen teenager Sean Anderson, who reluctantly bonds with his new stepfather, Hank (Johnson, two biceps and one smile), when they end up stranded on a tropical, Verne-like island populated by giant bees and lizards. Joining the adventure are a tight tank-top wearer named Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) and her hapless dad, Gabato (Luis Guzman), a walking poop joke. Sean's island-dwelling grandfather, Alexander, is played by Michael Caine, a charmer who can uplift even execrable garbage like "Jaws: The Revenge" but finally seems beaten by this stinker.
"Journey 2" offers fleeting glimpses of elaborately animated creatures, and the 3-D effect is put to good use during a colorful crash between two speeding birds. That may be enough to hypnotize small children for 90 minutes, but everyone else will be checking their watches until exit time.
PLOT Sequel to "Journey to the Center of the Earth" RATING PG (action, some scary creatures)
PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D
BOTTOM LINE Everything from the sets to the actors seem made of Styrofoam.