THE STORYFour high school kids discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose. What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji – you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves – or they’ll be stuck in the game forever.
THE CAST – Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas & Bobby Cannavale
THE TEAM – Jake Kasdan (Director/Writer), Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner
THE RUNNING TIME – 119 Minutes
By Daniel H.
Despite dozens of attempts over the years, there’s one type of movie that Hollywood has simply never gotten right: the video game movie. As it turns out, these previous attempts were missing three vital ingredients: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. Pairing these three for an action comedy would be difficult to screw up, and thankfully director Jake Kasdan was up to the task. “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” scores big points by simply giving these actors room to have fun.
This reboot comes after the 1995 Robin Williams film “Jumanji”, which itself was an adaptation of the children’s book of the same name. That film followed children as they played a board game that comes to life, bringing chaos (and rhinos) into their home. This new “stand-alone sequel” flips the script. Four teenagers, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Martha (Morgan Turner), are sucked into a Jumanji video game, forced to beat the game or die trying. Within the game they must play as avatars: Spencer as Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Moose Finbar (Hart), Sheldon Oberon (Black), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Yes, this is another body-swapping movie and yes, all the ingredients for failure were there (Especially after initial reactions to the film’s first trailer), but trust me: it’s absolutely hilarious.
In his role as a teenage girl stuck in a middle-aged man’s body, Jack Black seems to be having endless amounts of fun. But it’s not over the top, stupid jokes: he’s constantly committed to the role and is actually really believable. It’s this great performance that makes it all the funnier. Make no mistake: this is Jack Black’s best performance in years. Entire sequences of Black’s character discovering his new body are absolutely some of the funniest scenes of the whole year. Right alongside him is Johnson and Hart, two men who never seem to run out of charisma nor their chemistry together on screen (The two previously collaborated on “Central Intelligence“). These three actors know exactly what they’re here to do, and they deliver.
Unfortunately, the cards were stacked against anyone acting opposite Johnson, Hart, and Black. Gillan doesn’t quite match the level of her co-stars. It’s also a shame that the only real female role in the film isn’t written quite as strong as the male roles. One scene in particular, in which Sheldon must teach Ruby how to flirt, is pretty unfunny. Still, this is merely a speed bump in the film and never derails it. Nor do Nick Jonas or Bobby Cannavale, who are perfectly fine here, but never given much to do in the movie. This is a three-man show, and everyone else is just along for the ride.
Just as in a video game, these characters have limited lives, strengths and weaknesses, and a mission to complete. This film gets everything right about what a video game movie should be. It has nods to all the classic tropes: robotic side characters, simplistic villains, and even using planks to bridge gaps over danger. The filmmakers seemed to understand what makes video games fun and leaned into it, something actual video game adaptations rarely do.
“Jumanji” never gets too bogged down in the details of the plot, either. It’s an extremely simple and cliche plot: retrieve this special item, don’t let the villain get it, return it to where it belongs, save the day. But ultimately this plot comes second to the consistently funny characters. This is a movie full of cliches, but they’re aware and run with them. The actors have room to breathe and be funny here, without feeling rushed to get on the with the storyline. It may be a simple plot, but it doesn’t really matter when the characters are so much fun to just watch exist.
The portion of the film that takes place inside the video game is bookended with the real world and the high school characters in their real bodies. These pieces felt a little weak since the strength of this film is the ridiculous nature of the video game world. Still, Alex Wolff must be singled out for his really excellent performance, brief though it was. A scene in the principal’s office showcased his real depth and quiet emotion and he certainly elevated some of the weaker scenes in these bookends.
Even with a simple plot, “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” is so flat-out hysterical that it’s surprisingly a complete joy to watch. The film embraces the silly concept of being sucked into a video game, but never insults the audience’s intelligence. These characters could sit in an empty room for two hours and it would still be one of the funniest movies of the year. This movie should not have worked as well as it does, making “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” the most surprising success story of the year.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – With three of the most charismatic and hilarious actors working today, Jumanji is funny and constantly entertaining.
THE BAD – The humor certainly outweighs the plot, which is pretty weak. Karen Gillan’s performance is a bit bland, especially compared to her co-stars.
THE FINAL SCORE – 7/10