JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE Review: 8 out of 10 (Follow These Drums)
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is a new fantasy adventure comedy carrying the name of the family film from 1995 and works more as a stand-alone film than a true sequel. Apart from the word "Jumanji" it really has nothing to do with the original film, other than some minor callbacks. Instead, this is a standalone fantasy adventure film that is *at least* as much fun as the original. Directed by Jake Kasdan, the film stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale. The plot follows four teenagers who end up in detention together in a fairly contrived way. The film offers a very "Breakfast Club" template of teenage stereotypes: The Jock, The Nerd, The Introvert, and the Popular Girl. When the kids are tasked to fix up an old school storeroom for detention (what school does this?!?) they dust off an old video game stored in a box they find and plug it in to a nearby TV and AV cart. Once they power it up and each choose a character to play, they are sucked into the videogame and find themselves in the world of Jumanji. Each of these teenagers are now in the forms of the game avatars they chose. Spencer (the nerd) becomes beefcake explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone--played by Dwayne Johnson. Fridge (the jock) is now sidekick and zoologist Moose Finbar played by Kevin Hart. Martha the shy girl transforms into fighter badass Ruby Roundhouse played by Karen Gillan. Finally, Bethany (phone obsessed popular girl) becomes the overweight, male scientist Professor Sheldon Oberon played by Jack Black. They quickly realize that they are in a video game, and each of them only has three lives. Each of their avatars also comes with special skills and weaknesses, and working together (DUH) is how they can stay alive, win the game, and go back home.
Yeah, the premise is goofy and the teenager stereotypes are pretty on the nose. But the movie has a lot of fun subverting those roles, and by proxy, the audience does too. Jack Black seems to have way too much fun as a teen girl living in a man's body. Karen Gillan works to discover her inner badass but also tries to flirt for the first time, with coaching from Bethany, in one of the best scenes from the movie. Kevin Hart can continue to work his self-effacing humor while Dwayne Johnson lacks self-confidence despite his newfound muscular body. In other words, both are essentially the same characters from CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (which I loved by the way). The film is very clever to its gaming roots, involving maps, fetch quests, NPC characters, and progressively more difficult levels. Add in a baddie with a penchant for bugs (Bobby Cannavale) and this movie does begin to cook. Is it silly? Of course, it is. Is the humor sophomoric? Absolutely. And yet, these actors elevate some pretty standard writing with some fun performances and action sequences. As a fantasy adventure film in a video game world it succeeds far more than nearly every other movie *actually* based on a video game. The film has a fairly predictable path, a standard subplot with a love interest, and not many surprises. But there is still some fun action to be had, and dammit if Kevin Hart doesn't deliver some fun deadpan lines here as a football jock trapped in a man's body whose nickname is "Mouse."
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is a film tailor-made for families with tweener/teenage kids with its jokes about cell phones and video games and a central message of camaraderie. This is an easy pick for parents looking for a Christmas movie side trip with all those days home for the holiday. It doesn't contribute anything to cinema, it doesn't have anything new to say, but it does offer some fun for the audience.