JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH — ** — Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem; rated PG (violence)

In many respects, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" resembles one of those image-projection-and-rollercoaster-action rides you'll find at amusement parks around the United States.

Unfortunately, that not only includes the film's special-effects sequences but also its plot, which is a little too sketchy and threadbare for its own good.

And as a result, the movie comes off as a 90-minute version of a ride attraction — and is as wearisome as that implies.

Also, it should be mentioned that the film will be in theaters in either the 2-D or 3-D formats. Given the choice, you'd be better off watching it in the latter one. (This review is based on a 3-D version of the film that was pre-screened for critics.)

This updating of the Jules Verne tale stars Brendan Fraser as Trevor Anderson, a geologist who is still haunted by the death of his older brother.

Trevor is supposed to be spending time with his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson, from "Bridge to Terabithia"). Instead, he takes the teen with him on an adventure in Iceland.

With help from Sean, and from Hannah Asgeirsson (newcomer Anita Briem), a lovely mountain guide, Trevor hopes to find out what happened to his brother. But a cave collapse sends them plummeting miles below the Earth's surface.

What's worse, the three have to fend off dinosaurs, ravenous plant life and aquatic beasties — all the while trying to find a way to escape this predicament before they're cooked.

Some of these digital creations look pretty cool, at least in 3-D. If only as much care had been taken with the script, which is credited to three screenwriters. It's filled with lame one-liners and other dumb verbiage.

Even Fraser, who's had to deliver some awful dialogue in his career, looks a little disgusted with some of the nonsense his character spouts.

And director Eric Brevig (a special-effects whiz who helped create Disneyland's "Captain EO") overuses the 3-D gimmick. A yo-yo bit is repeated so many times it's annoying.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth" is rated PG for some strong violent imagery (creature attacks, natural disaster and various peril moments), as well as some creature goo. Running time: 92 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com