All roar, no bite

One of the worst prison sex scenes you’ll ever see.

One of the worst prison sex scenes you’ll ever see.

Rated 2.0

A sizable chunk of dread has temporarily left one of our more dependable film series with Jurassic Park III, easily the weakest installment in the franchise and a testament to the value of Steven Spielberg’s gift for dino scares.

Spielberg—who helmed the first two films—did not direct this time out, passing the baton to Joe Johnston (Jumanji), who is not completely up to the task. This Jurassic Park isn’t scary; it’s some fairly decent dinosaur effects strung together by an almost non-existent script, virtually lacking the anticipatory sense of dread and fear that Spielberg brought to the proceedings.

Say all you want about some of the dopey, non-dinosaur exposition scenes in the first films; those quiet, sometimes schmaltzy human moments acted as nice cushions for the thrills that were on the way. The breather they provided, even if the drama sequences weren’t Spielberg at his best, gave the viewer time to worry about the next attack.

Johnston doesn’t build up to the thrills, and the dire consequence is that the thrills are far less thrilling. They are remarkably average and routine. Instead of vibrating earth and percolating puddles of water, we get a dopey, implausible gimmick that signals a dinosaur approach. The effect dulls the suspense.

In a welcomed return, Sam Neill once again portrays Dr. Alan Grant, the skeptical paleontologist from the first installment. Hired by a husband-and-wife team (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni) to accompany them on a flight over Isla Sorna (location for JP2: The Lost World carnage), circumstances arise that call for a landing on the island. It doesn’t take long for dinosaurs to start eating people in fast and furious fashion.

One of the film’s problems is some of the more likable characters are dispatched far too early, while the characters that annoy survive (such as Leoni, she of the offending vocal tone). Parental alert: The deaths in this film are dragged out and disturbing. I heard some children crying during one particularly grisly demise, so proceed with caution.

I suppose a decent barometer for how much you will enjoy this film would be how much you enjoyed the first sequel, The Lost World. I think it was the second-best dinosaur film ever made, that Jeff Goldblum was hilarious and that two T-rexes were better than one.

Jurassic Park 3 is nearly void of laughter or any sense of awe, and it does an unfortunate thing with the T-rex, the Elvis of the JP films—they kill the beast. T-rex meets an early death courtesy of an all-too-brief battle with the spinosaurus, a bigger but less frightening dinosaur with a goofy-looking head. There were two T-rexes in the second film, so I kept waiting for the spouse to pull a Jaws 2 and go looking for revenge. No such luck.

The first two films had their flaws (the lame dino-petting scene from the first and the super-gymnastic kid kicking a raptor’s ass in the second come to mind), but they were far superior entertainments. At a streamlined 92 minutes, JP3 goes for meaner and leaner but winds up mysteriously boring.

An aviary scene involving pteranodons—big, flying, nasty creatures—is decent, but the raptor scenes are predictable. The screenplay (which features a helping hand from Alexander Payne of Election fame) throws a bunch of garbage into the mix about raptors talking to each other, giving the sequences a distracting logic that they don’t require.

By the time we see flying lizards departing the island for Jurassic Park IV, one thing has become very clear: For the next installment, rather than cloning another T-rex or triceratops, it would serve the series well to clone Mr. Spielberg and get him back in the director’s chair.