Tour de terror

The dinos get sore on their third go-around.

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More bang, bigger, but less than meets the eye, Jurassic Park III is director Joe Johnson’s cranked-up model of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park franchise. JP3 isn’t the brightest movie of this trilogy, but its artificial heart still pumps enough adrenaline to thrill and chill.

Isla Sorna, the “park” of The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 (1997) is quarantined. But some of its dinosaur inmates, a second generation of biotech Frankenstein monsters, don’t seem to know that — or care. Teenager Eric Kirby (Trevor Morgan, The Patriot) finds this out the hard way while taking the Dino Soar parasailing tour around the island with his mother’s boyfriend, Ben (Mark Harelik, Election). Suddenly, all that remains of the towboat’s crew are smears of blood, and Eric and Ben find themselves crashing into the forbidden island’s treetops.

It’s Mom and Dad to the rescue. Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy, Mystery Men, and Téa Leoni, The Family Man) employ the dweebish Udesky (Micheal Jeter, The Gift) as the unlikely contractor and leader of a heavily armed mercenary squad. Then they enlist the man who arguably knows the most about Jurassic Park, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill reprising his role in Jurassic Park). Alan’s handsome research assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola, Face/Off) facilitates a dinner meeting. After Paul signs a virtually blank check for Alan’s research on the intelligence of velociraptors (those mean, man-sized dinos with Freddy-Kreugerish razor-blade toenails), Alan signs on, as a high-priced guide for what the Kirbys describe as an exotic, aerial sightseeing tour of Isla Sorna. It’s only after coming to after a knockout punch delivered by one of Udesky’s men that Alan realizes he and Billy have been shanghaied to help the rescue mission. As the group attempts to survive and search for Eric, some fall a notch on the food chain, becoming dino chow. Soon they’ll all realize just how viciously intelligent the velociraptors are.

Special-effects wizard Johnson (October Sky, Jumanji) injects Spielberg’s Jurassic Park with steroids at the expense of heart and brains. The action is faster, the dinosaurs are bigger, and there are more laughs. Johnson replicates his mentor’s take on his Indiana Jones character, Dr. Alan “the dinosaur man,” but lacks Spielberg’s touch for heartwarming family melodrama. Johnson can’t, however, be blamed for failing to pick up the first film’s smart satires on theme parks, marketing and biotechnological ethics: Spielberg largely dropped those issues himself in The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2.

As the climax springs — not with a big bang, but taut suspense and a “whew!” of relief — I suspect a false ending. But as Johnson sets up the next sequel and the credits begin to roll, I realize the true lost world is the super-sized and intelligent family entertainment of Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].

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