Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillam, Bobby Cannavale and Nick Jonas
Running Time: 1 Hr, 59 Mins
When the trailer for Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle dropped a few months ago, it was met with venomous contempt by fans, many of whom flocked to the Internet to voice their disgust. Robin Williams tragic death in 2014 made the Jumanji franchise sacred territory and a new movie was, they felt, absolute sacrilege. Sony must have feared it was facing another Ghostbusters debacle, where fans did everything in their power to drive a stake through the movie’s box office heart before it even saw the light of day.
While we’ll have to keep a close eye on Jumanji’s box office numbers (facing off against Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn’t the smartest idea in the world), the film itself was a pleasant surprise.
20 years ago, the magic Jumanji game evolved into a video game system to keep itself current (as an unfortunate player muses, “no one plays board games anymore”). Fast forward to the present and an unlikely quartet of teenagers who find themselves in detention stumble upon the cursed game and are transported into the world of Jumanji and transformed into the game characters they chose. Not only must they adapt to their radical new surroundings and their new bodies (which come with tailor made skill sets), but they have to figure out a way to work together to compete their task to escape Jumanji before they run out of lives.
And how the tables have turned. The avatars the kids find themselves in are the exact opposite of their normal selves. Nerdy bookworm Spencer is turned into the hulking hero Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The ever popular football star Fridge becomes Bravestone’s diminutive (and slow footed) sidekick (Kevin Hart) while shy wallflower Emma becomes the midriff baring martial arts expert Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillam). Easily the most entertaining switch by far is stereotypical valley girl Bethany becoming the very male, very plump and very middle aged Professor “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).
Jumanji is a fun, harmless ride and the secret to its success is its cast. While each member dutifully lives up to the comedic demands of their roles, the cast is also greater than the sum of its parts. I was hoping to see Hart and Johnson recreate the chemistry that made Central Intelligence so much fun a few years ago and I wasn’t disappointed. But despite that renewed and entertaining partnership, the real scene stealer was Black playing a narcissistic valley girl stuck in the body of an overweight forty year old. Black is amusing when he’s doing his own thing but excels when he’s interacting with the others. The scene where his male counterparts teach him/her how to pee is priceless.
Dwayne Johnson continues to show his comedic muscles are almost as strong as his actual ones and Kevin Hart is, well, Kevin Hart. Gillam is adequate as the hard hitting, high kicking Roundhouse and she manages to steal a few scenes along the way. After seeing Jumanji you may never look at either flirting or dancing the same way again.
The story is pretty straight forward and the action is solid enough. Jumanji also makes sure to make a reference to the 1995 original starring Robin Williams without stepping on its toes. But its the chemistry between the cast that makes this worth watching. While there’s plenty of action, the comedy is what your paying for. And you get your money’s worth.
Jumanji stands well enough on its own and is a fun time. If you don’t go in with any expectations and aren’t expecting anything close to serious, you’ll have a good time. But you may want to avoid playing Hungry Hungry Hippos for a few days afterwards.