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"JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE"
(2017) (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Adventure: Four high school students find themselves in new avatar bodies when they accidentally are sent into a video game and must complete a challenging task before it's too late.
PLOT:
Spencer Gilpin (ALEX WOLFF) is a geeky high school student who'd rather play video games than interact with others, although he's been bullied into writing papers for class jock Anthony 'Fridge' Johnson (SER'DARIUS BLAIN) so that the latter can remain on the football team. Martha Kaply (MORGAN TURNER) thinks anything sports or gym-related in high school is a waste of time that should otherwise be used for education, while Bethany Walker (MADISON ISEMAN) is more interested in looking good in person and in social media.

All four end up in detention where they come across on an old video game called Jumanji. When they activate it, they're magically sucked into the video game's jungle setting where they appear as physical avatars quite different than their normal selves. Spencer has become the tall and muscle-bound Dr. Smolder Bravestone (DWAYNE JOHNSON) while Fridge has turned into the diminutive Moose Finbar (KEVIN HART) who possesses neither speed or strength. Martha, on the other hand, has become Ruby Roundhouse (KAREN GILLAN) who's proficient at martial arts, while Bethany is horrified to discover she's become a middle-aged and overweight zoologist, Professor Shelly Oberon (JACK BLACK), who also just so happens to be a man.

Greeted by game moderator Nigel (RHYS DARBY), the four learn that they must find and return a large jewel to a towering jaguar statue to save Jumanji before time runs out. With the help of a neighbor who was sucked into the game two decades earlier, Alex (NICK JONAS), they set out to accomplish the task, but must contend with the villain who originally stole the jewel, Van Pelt (BOBBY CANNAVALE), who now controls all of the animals in the jungle.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Of all the films in which the late, great Robin Williams appeared, "Jumanji" was not one of my favorites. I saw it once back when it released (mainly due to the press about it being the first or one of the first movies to feature computer-generated animals in a live-action film), but wasn't that impressed, and never saw it again. Thus, I have little recollection of the plot aside from some kids playing the title game and unleashing a bunch of those critters as well as Williams playing a wild character (little surprise there) who had been trapped in the game.

In yet another example of Hollywood mining its old library rather than creating something new, we now have the reboot of that 1995 film, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle." Other than the name of the game and a brief reference to Williams' character, this is a different flick than the original in that writers Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner and director Jake Kasdan have moved the action inside the game rather than having those game characters emerging into the real world.

I do have to say I like the notion of having real-world teens ending up embodying video game characters with different body types (and in one instance, genders), and the filmmakers go out of their way to milk everything they can from the premise. After the four teens all end up in school detention for a variety of reasons, the kids literally get sucked into the game and suddenly find themselves in a jungle setting where they don't recognize each other or themselves.

Scrawny, video game teen Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) ends up in the physically imposing body of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while the opposite happens to big football player "Fridge" Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain) who ends up as the short, slow and not particularly strong Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart). Education nerd Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) who hates gym finds herself as the kick-butt heroine Ruby Roundhouse, while primping, social media using Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is shocked to find herself as a middle-aged, overweight male zoologist (Jack Black).

Accordingly, the nerd is shocked to find himself with rippling muscles, the jock isn't pleased to discover his physical on-field prowess is now MIA, the mousy student is amazed by her ability to execute a perfectly timed roundhouse kick, and the popular beauty must contend with a vastly different body type. The humor for her/him is that the teen girl discovers she now has a penis and is amazed by all things related to that. I'm not sure why the filmmakers didn't have one of the guy characters go the opposite gender route as well (unless they were uncomfortable with the notion of a guy being inside a woman's body and becoming fixated on body parts he's long wondered and fantasized about).

Of course, one can only go so far with any of that material, and once those jokes have pretty much been used up, the main plot has to kick in. And that's where the film ultimately disappoints. Sure, there are still some occasional funny moments and some decent stunts (including a sideways helicopter catch), but with the sky no longer being the limit, it's surprising that the game parameters -- including the villain - and related character efforts to win didn't show greater levels of creativity.

Each character is afforded three lives, but none of the individual demises is as fun as what occurred in the time looping Tom Cruise sci-fi pic "Edge of Tomorrow." And the same holds true for efforts to move from one level to the next, only to have to repeat everything to get back to the last advancement (another thing "EoT" excelled at). And Bobby Cannavale's video game character villain is so blandly one-dimensional that he could have been jettisoned and I don't think anyone would noticed, let alone cared. Fans of The Jonas Brothers might enjoy seeing the arrival of Nick Jonas in the second half, but his character doesn't really add much to the proceedings either.

So, as a body-switching flick (the kind Hollywood used to make -- wait, shhh, I didn't say that as it now means those reboots are likely headed our way), the pic offers some decently inspired moments, especially with The Rock and Hart teamed together once again (after "Central Intelligence" last year) and having decent comedic antagonistic chemistry together. But the rest of the film feels like the sort of video game you might begin playing, quickly grow bored by it, and never return to it.

Sort of like I did with the original "Jumanji" film way back when and how I'll likely treat this reboot going forward. In dire need of a better story inside the video game, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" tries to spice things up during the end credit roll with the old Guns N' Roses song, but by then "game over" has already long occurred. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 8, 2017 / Posted December 20, 2017


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