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"JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL"
(2019) (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Adventure: Four friends who previously survived a trip into a video game find themselves back there again, but most now in new avatar bodies they must use to save the day before it's too late.
PLOT:
Not long ago, high school students Spencer Gilpin (ALEX WOLFF), Anthony 'Fridge' Johnson (SER'DARIUS BLAIN), Martha Kaply (MORGAN TURNER) and Bethany Walker (MADISON ISEMAN) were accidentally sucked into a video game called Jumanji. With the assistance of game moderator Nigel (RHYS DARBY), pilot character Jefferson "Seaplane" McDonough (NICK JONAS) and Alex Vreeke (COLIN HANKS) -- who had been stuck in that game for decades -- they managed to complete a dangerous task that not only saved the kingdom of Jumanji, but also let them return to their normal lives.

Those students have now gone their separate ways, with Spencer suffering that separation the most, what with him and Martha having put a hold on their romantic relationship. Accordingly, and upon returning for Christmas break to visit his mother, he ends up as roommates with his uncle, Eddie Gilpin (DANNY DeVITO), who's staying there recovering from hip surgery. Missing how he felt while in the guise of his game avatar, the tall and muscle-bound Dr. Smolder Bravestone (DWAYNE JOHNSON), Eddie breaks out the game and returns to it, only to discover that he's not in Bravestone's body, but instead has ended up in burglar Ming Fleetfoot (AWKWAFINA).

Back in the real world, Martha, Fridge and Bethany are concerned that he hasn't responded to their attempts to contact him and thus go to Spencer's mom's house where they not only meet Eddie, but also his former business partner, Milo Walker (DANNY GLOVER), who's shown up out of the blue wanting to patch up their falling out from long ago. All but Bethany end up sucked into the game where Martha is the only one to get her earlier avatar, Ruby Roundhouse (KAREN GILLAN) who's proficient at martial arts.

Fridge ends up in Bethany's previous avatar, middle-aged and overweight cartographer, Professor Shelly Oberon (JACK BLACK), Eddie ends up as Bravestone, and Milo ends up in Fridge's previous avatar, the diminutive zoologist Moose Finbar (KEVIN HART). Learning from Nigel that a new villain, Jurgen the Brutal (RORY McCANN), has stolen a gem pivotal to the existence of Jumanji, the friends and their new companions try to get used to their new bodies as they set out to save the day and return to the real world before they run out of game lives.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
A long, long time ago in a world now seemingly far, far away, I was an active aspiring screenwriter and had plenty of ideas for scripts. But I never did anything with some of them simply from believing that at that time the special effects of the world simply couldn't pull off what would be needed.

Case in point was a dinosaur flick inspired by the same Omni Magazine article that likely influenced Michael Creighton in his idea behind "Jurassic Park." Alas, I was more than a decade too early for what ILM and Steven Spielberg managed to pull off with the movie version of that tale.

Nowadays, the sky -- and then some -- is the limit, and pretty much anything one can imagine can now be put up on the screen in nothing short of amazing photo-realism. And if said tale were to occur inside a video game without any limits, heck, creativity and imagination should sweep through and across the screen and viewers' eyes, ears and more like some cinematic tidal wave.

That's part of the reason why I wasn't crazy about 2017's "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and the same holds true for its sequel, "Jumanji: The Next Level." Of course, the earlier flick -- a reboot meets continuation of the 1995 adventure flick starring Robin Williams -- did have some creative casting fun in terms of the four high school students ending up in completely different body types as their video game avatars.

But that alone couldn't carry the pic and that very same issue bedevils this sequel, even if it throws a twist atop such contrasting visuals and related behavior. And that would be having some of those four teen characters -- now having graduated high school and moved on and about with their lives -- ending up in different avatar bodies.

Spencer (Alex Wolff) is the first to return to the game, hoping to become Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) once again. Instead, he ends up as burglar Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina), while Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) takes over Bethany's previous avatar, Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and Bravestone and Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart) end up inhabited by Spencer's grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and his estranged former business partner, Milo (Danny Glover).

Additional switches occur over the course of the film's far-too-long running time of two hours and change, but writer/director Jake Kasdan and co-writers Jeff Pinkner & Scott Rosenberg can only milk that so much and so far before it becomes a bit repetitive and tiresome.

And like last time, the biggest disappointment is that the main story and the villain here are flat and decidedly less than inspired. Literally anything could have been imagined but what we're given is a lame plot where the outsiders in the game must recover an apparently pivotal jewel stolen by an instantly forgettable antagonist (Rory McCann).

Even the two big special effects sequences -- one featuring attacking giant ostriches and the other huge mandrills on swinging, rope suspension bridges -- aren't that inspired (but at least might momentarily jostle viewers from their increasingly overwhelming stupor of watching this lack of true imagination unfold).

Compare that to the fun and entertaining material found in the "Wreck-It Ralph" movies and these two somewhat similar video game based flicks fall short. Way short, in fact, which is a shame as "anything goes" could and should have been the mantra and filmmaking battle cry for all involved. It apparently wasn't and for that "Jumanji: The Next Level" rates just like its predecessor, a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 10, 2019 / Posted December 13, 2019


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