Tim Allen doesn’t do anything new in Jungle2Jungle, but he’s got that Allen-via-Disney persona operating at maximum efficiency: Once again, he’s an irascible guy’s guy who’s baffled and exasperated by the mysteries of women and children, yet eminently trainable as a decent human being. In J2J, a close reworking of the 1996 French comedy Un Indien Dans La Ville, the Home Improvement paterfamilias plays Michael Cromwell, a work-obsessed commodities broker in New York City, long separated from his wife, Patricia (JoBeth Williams), who is now a doctor in an Amazonian village. When he visits her jungle habitat to obtain the divorce papers he needs to marry Charlotte (Lolita Davidovitch), an equally work-obsessed fashion designer, he discovers he has a son, Mimi-Siku (Sam Huntington, sweet in his feature-film debut), a 13-year-old nature boy in a loincloth who’s an ace with a blow dart. And what with one thing and another, Michael agrees to bring Mimi-Siku to his village, NYC, for a visit.
Mimi-Siku’s charming misadventures as a cultural outsider (he doesn’t know the fine points of using a toilet bowl; he thinks cats are for eating; he carries a huge, hairy, poisonous spider as a pet; etc.) and the humanizing effect the boy’s natural goodness has on his father as the two deepen their bonds are the William Bennett-approved virtues in this innocuous enterprise. And if they’re reminiscent of the lessons in Allen’s The Santa Clause, that’s exactly the point: Director John Pasquin and much of the production team are veterans of that 1994 hit. (A subplot involving Martin Short as Allen’s nervous business partner and a crew of violent Russian mobsters is far less successful here, pleasant as it is to see Short and Allen a deux.)
But as in The Santa Clause, this father-son fantasy leaves women on the sidelines. Williams (Wyatt Earp) is spared: She’s a wife who split, but at least she commands respect as a doctor who fits in with the locals and who raised a nice boy. But poor Davidovitch (Touch) is stuck playing a shallow, self-absorbed caricature of a childless, materialistic big-city working gal; to wake her up in the morning, her fiance shouts ”Bloomingdale’s burned down!” Why Michael ever hooked up with such a specimen in the first place is never questioned, but students of Disney know from the moment they see Charlotte’s inappropriate daytime decolletage that she doesn’t stand a chance against Tim Allen’s conversion to wholesomeness.