'Jumanji' sequel more bungle than jungle

AP
"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," is a very sweet, and generally entertaining lark with some nice messages about believing in, yourself.
AP

From left: Nick Jonas, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

More than two decades after Robin Williams conquered the pesky board game, “Jumanji” has been resurrected with more and glossier stars (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black), a comedy director and a “modern” twist. The result, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” is a very sweet, and generally entertaining lark with some nice messages about believing in, yourself.

Why it had to be “Jumanji” is the head-scratcher. The idea that a die-hard “Jumanji” fanbase exists, or that the “brand” is so rock-solid that it needs a reboot, seems dubious at best.

There are pointless sequels everywhere, and questioning their existence is fruitless. And Jake Kasdan’s “Welcome to the Jungle” spends a fair amount of unnecessary time trying to justify how it is connected to the original including a whole prologue how it had evolved into a video game by 1996.

The conceit here is that when you’re transported into the game, you are suddenly a character in the game, in body, voice and skillset but with your earthbound personality pretty much intact. 

This is how a group of mismatched teens sharing the same detention, including the nerdy, shy Spencer (Alex Wolff), the football player Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the superficial popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) and the too-smart for gym class Martha (Morgan Turner), transform into avatars played by Dwayne Johnson (Spencer), Kevin Hart (Fridge), Jack Black (Bethany) and Karen Gillan (Martha).

It’s a role reversal for everyone‚ the nerdy girl is hot, the hot girl is a soft, middle-aged man, the skinny guy is The Rock and the big football player is now tiny and wimpy, and they all have to go through the stages of learning to accept their new bodies, talents and shortcomings. There is of course a lot of easy comedy in these situations‚ Spencer admiring his new muscles and Bethany getting used to her new anatomy among them. 

And all the main actors are kind of great at imitating the facial expressions of their teenage counterparts. How can you argue with a bunch of movie stars acting goofy and hawking a “believe in yourself” message? There are some odd beats and choices, but “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” probably doesn’t warrant that much scrutiny. Its surface pleasures are strong enough for a fun holiday afternoon at the movies.


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