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Jurassic Park 3

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"Dr. Grant, I presume?"
Sam Neill is surrounded by the warm glow of old Raptor friends.

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"Jurassic Park 3" (IMDb listing) director Joe Johnston, taking over for Steven Spielberg, lacks the storytelling skills of his predecessor, but he's smart enough to see that the "Jurassic Park" franchise is nothing more than a cinematic amusement park.

Beyond the bombast and cliches—elements even the most naive of moviegoers should expect in effects-driven blockbusters—the biggest problem with the first two "Jurassic" films was their reliance on the science vs. nature theme. Even Charles Darwin would have tired of the repeat warnings of "playing God," perhaps going so far as to declare: "Yeah, I get it, now show me blood!" In "Jurassic Park 3," Johnston wisely drops this ethical quandary, only paying lip service to it with one "playing God" moment—a moment quickly dismissed by a Velociraptor attack. We're spared the "ooohing" and "aaahing" of Jeff Goldblum and the "I didn't mean for you all to be eaten" senility of Sir Richard Attenborough. By leaving the debate points behind, Johnston offers a leaner, quicker vision of "Jurassic Park."

The "plot" is merely a segue between dinosaur attacks, but for the sake of reviewing completeness, it goes like this: After a para-sailing incident, a teenage boy named Eric Kirby is stranded on Isla Sorna, the dino-infested island built by the InGen corporation as Site B for Jurassic Park. Desperate to retrieve their son, Eric's divorced parents (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) resort to trickery and bribery to enlist the help of "Jurassic Park" survivor Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, reprising his role from the first film) and his grad student assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola from "Face/Off"). Accompanied by a smattering of mercenaries and a random booking agent (don't ask), the group's rescue mission is blown to hell by frequent attacks from prehistoric creatures, forcing the ever-dwindling survivors to dash for the coast to summon help.

Misguided viewers hoping for deft character development and directorial brilliance will be sorely disappointed (again) because the requisite action/monster cliches abound in this film. Eric, the lost teenager, is a less likable version of Newt from "Aliens" who inexplicably develops expert survival skills when faced with dire circumstances. Dr. Grant, sporting a dusty fedora and a "not again" attitude, is a watered-down Indiana Jones, while his assistant, Billy Brennan, is the heroic alpha-male-in-training. Most jarring, and misplaced, is the divorced couple (Macy and Leoni), who exhibit the same bickering attraction seen in all those "Parent Trap" movies.

Unlike "Mission Impossible 2," where flaws were magnified because the story was a clear afterthought to the stunt scenes, "Jurassic Park 3" moves fast enough to gloss over most of its problems. The film's story is weak, and the performers share more with props than actors, but Johnston's attention to energy and action dulls the impact of these inconsistencies. It's hard (and pointless) to poke holes in something so fast, mindless, and simple. "Jurassic Park 3" isn't beyond in-depth criticism, it's just not worth the effort.

While it won't be winning any screenwriting awards, "Jurassic Park 3" does, at times, exhibit clever reflexivity. Johnston inserts references to the first two films that act primarily as back story but also allow for good-natured sucker punches. For example, when Eric tells Dr. Grant he's read both his books and believes the first to be the superior work, you know Johnston is shooting the same criticism at Spielberg's two "Jurassic" films. Likewise, subtle pop culture insertions, such as the physical similarity between a particular Velociraptor and Spike from "Gremlins," also reveal Johnston's impish side. Teasing between directors and pop allusions don't make for a better film, but more so than Spielberg's "Jurassic" entries, Johnston's lean, self-aware effort plays to this franchise's greatest strength: It's a cheeky thrill ride.

Filmfodder Grade: B-

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