Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017 movie) review…

You can’t wink & nod your way to sincerity… After the break…

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017 movie) review…

Dwayne Johnson headlines as a teenager stuck in a video game action hero’s body as he’s forced to complete the video game’s quest in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” a partial-reboot and partial-sequel to the 1995 film of the same name.

Dwayne Johnson isn’t alone in his pursuit to complete the video game’s quest; Three other teenagers have also become unwilling participants, turned into video game characters as well. Kevin Hart plays a stereotypical sidekick to Dwayne Johnson’s hero character; Jack Black plays a male zoologist whose teenager player is female causing Jack Black’s character to exhibit typical teenage girl speech and movement mannerisms & finally Karen Gillan plays a scantily-clad, trim & athletic action-oriented female character who is controlled by a shy female teenager who isn’t used to looking or acting like a supermodel.

You don’t need to watch the original 1995 movie to appreciate this 2017 continuation; Clearly, there are some references to the original movie but this reboot can be appreciated all on it’s own.

The movie begins where the original leaves off, with the cursed board game being found in the year 1996 and given to a teenager… Who promptly shelves it because board games don’t interest him while console video games do. The game then magically transforms itself into a video game cartridge which the teenager does become intrigued enough to play. The result is that the teenager disappears mysteriously, devastating his family and confounding the surrounding community.

The story then picks up in the year 2017 where four unsuspecting teenagers are forced to clean up an unused section of the high school in preparation for it to be remodeled. The teenagers find the video game cartridge and attempt to play the game, causing them to be transported into the game where they assume their video game characters’ identities. If they want to escape the game, they’ll have to not only complete the game but do so without losing all three of their lives that each of their characters has been given.

Three of the actors here play themselves mostly against type and it’s likely the reason for why they signed onto the movie to begin with. Dwayne Johnson is played by a teenager who is suffering through the usual phase of being gawky, awkward and uncertain of himself even in the clearest of circumstances which is a far cry from his usual hulking, menacing, confident action hero roles. Karen Gillan, a physically atrractive woman, is forced to play her role with absolute naivete, as her teenager is also going through her young, awkward phrase where she doesn’t think that she’s attractive and wouldn’t know what to do if a boy walked right up to her and asked her out on a date. Finally, Jack Black plays against type by portraying himself as feminine as possible beyond the point of parody as the teenager controlling him is a prima-donna female who knows that she’s attractive and knows how to use that attractiveness to her every advantage. Only Kevin Hart seems to be in familiar territory here, playing a wise-cracking, angry, sarcastic sidekick that he’s played before, with Dwayne Johnson no less when the two of them teamed up previously in the movie “Central Intelligence.” I half-expected to hear Dwayne Johnson speak to Kevin Hart as “Donkey” a few times; The resemblence between the relationships between Shrek & Donkey are close enough to wonder if the Shrek franchise isn’t getting a royalty check & a “Special Thanks” credit from this film.

Much of the humor in the movie is derived through variations of the old “Fish out of Water” scenario, with the actors playing against type, the fictional teenagers being inside of a video game and the fictional teenagers playing characters that have strengths (or, in some cases, attributes) that they are not accustomed to having.

The movie’s plot, by itself, is rather bland and straight-forward, much like the old console games of the past whose plots could probably be written on one side of a notecard with plenty of space left over. There’s one significant twist in the movie that appears midway through; I won’t spoil it but people who have been paying attention to the movie will probably figure it out long before it happens.

There’s much to enjoy about this movie in that a lot of the material is rather well done. Plenty of the humor plays particularly well although I wasn’t much of an admirer of the more brasher moments, especially when Jack Black’s character must confront the fact that he is anatomically male or many of the times when Kevin Hart merely opens his mouth to speak. A little crudeness and brashness goes an awfully long way and this movie delivers both with as much of a generous dollop as a modern-day PG-13 rating would allow. If anything, once the movie’s humor moves past body parts and identity roles, the humor is quite well done and the writers could have pushed the boundaries on the absurdities of video game logic and plotting even further had they so chosen.

While the movie bills itself as a comedic action/adventure, the movie also tries for more subtle and dramatic themes. This is where the movie’s reliance upon the brash and crude strains of humor causes the movie to lose a lot of it’s heft. For instance, there’s a moment where they realize that time has stood still while they have been inside of the game. There are other moments where the characters have to settle their differences more diplomatically than with the usual brand of teenage sarcasm or irony. There’s even a moment where they contemplate what might happen if they lose all of the lives that they’ve been given before they complete the quest.

The problem with the drama in the movie, though, is that there are no consequences for these characters. The movie is played as a comedy first with enough action and adventure to keep the bored kids away from their smart phones. In order for the drama to work, you need to have a majority of the film to have some semblance of seriousness. You can’t frown suddenly in between bouts of laughter; The frown becomes ineffective because everyone knows that you’re just going to back to laughing a moment later.

The movie also has more than a few leaps of logic, even when you account for the fact that there are people trapped as video game characters inside of a video game. For instance, at the end of the movie, a huge chunk of local history has been altered thanks to the actions of our heroes. Time travel in even the most dry and technical sense is difficult to pull off convincingly; Here, the time alteration aspect of the movie is simply ridiculous and hard to overlook. Also, there’s a huge emphasis on not losing all of your lives in the video game but since no one knows what would happen, there’s no sense of suspense for when someone loses their life. Even still, in most video games, you simply start the game from the beginning again. Why create artificial drama with a supposed rule when you can establish a definitive rule instead and create real drama?

Jumanji isn’t a horrible film nor is it a bad one. When it sticks to non-graphic humor and the absurdities of console game logic, it punches far above it’s weight. Yet the movie purposefully weighs itself down when it tries to get serious, either with a time travel twist or with it’s characters coming to terms with one another, or when it attempts to be anatomically silly. In the end, Jumanji learns the hard way that you can’t wink and nod your way to seriousness but, while the film is smiling, you’ll likely smile along with it as well.

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