Movie News & Reviews

‘Jumanji’ clever enough to pull off a diverting switcheroo

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

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is reasonably clever and reasonably diverting.

Clever: It pulls a switcheroo on the premise of 1995’s Robin Williams-starring “Jumanji,” where the magical board game funneled all kinds of obstreperous jungle creatures into suburbia to wreak havoc.

In the two decades since the original “Jumanji” (derived from author Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 best-selling children’s book), the board game has evolved into a video game that drags four suburban teens into the jungle of the title.

Clever further: The kids, stereotypes all — boy nerd (Alex Wolff), girl nerd (Morgan Turner), smartphone-obsessed blonde ditz (Madison Iseman), imposing jock (Ser’darius Blain) — are transformed into avatars that are the polar opposites of their real-world selves.

Nerd lad becomes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, nerd girl becomes the second coming of Lara Croft (Karen Gillan in skimpy shorts, halter top revealing toned tummy), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart and the dim-bulb blondie becomes … Jack Black (!?)

Seeing the Rock act abashed as he wonderingly pokes a bulky bicep and marvels in a nerdy way at his physical awesomeness is reasonably funny. Hart, fulminating and screeching, is reasonably tiresome. (He needs a new shtick.) Gillan does a reasonably competent imitation of a martial artist, whomping bad guys with flying feet.

As for Black, he evinces an unreasonable amount of glee as he channels the flirty, flighty blonde within. He’s nowhere more gleeful than when he gives the nerd lass instruction on how to vamp. Fling the hair, swivel the hips, bite the lip, bat the eyes. He throws himself into it fully and is very funny.

Mostly though, director Jake Kasdan and a platoon of screenwriters serve up unremarkable action-movie action. Rock-fueled punch-outs, helicopter hijinks and chases by CG jungle beasts are all trotted out.

The central foursome must join forces to use their distinctive game-imposed skill sets (cartography is one, something called “dance fighting” is another) to survive the perils of the game. Doing that, they bond.

This “Jumanji” is a passable time-waster, the equivalent of comfort food dished up for the holidays.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

1/2 out of 4

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale.

Director: Jake Kasdan

Running time: 1:59

Rated: PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.

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