Jumanji:  Welcome to the Jungle

 

            It's great to see a good sense of humor in a film.  It's even better to sustain it throughout, even allowing for the interspersed action/adventure/fantasy.  Plus a little bit of the teen dynamics of “Breakfast Club.”

            In a beginning sequence that doesn't make sense until most of the way through the movie, Alex (Nick Jonas), a teenager in 1995 who likes heavy metal music, discovers the Jumanji board game and gets sucked in the console, never to be seen again.  Fast forward to today, and four teenagers gets detention.  The science nerd, Spencer (Alex Wolff, who's actually 20) is caught writing papers for the big football jock, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain, never mind that he's 30). Bethany (Madison Iseman, also 20) is the airhead, and Martha (Morgan Turner, the only one who's actually high school age) is the overachiever who can't relax.  Their detention is down in the basement of the high school, taking staples out of magazines, when they discover, yes, the board game called Jumanji.  And they, too, get sucked into the console.  Except when they emerge into the Jungle playing board, they're the characters in the game:  Bethany (Jack Black) turns into the cartographer/ paleontologist, Spenser the muscled adventurer (Dwayne Johnson), Martha the amazon-type warrior (Karen Gillan), and Fridge into the backpack valet (Kevin Hart). 

            These veteran actors are obviously having a good time playing against type.  Dwayne Johnson gets to act frightened and insecure.  Kevin Hart loudly laments his undersized torso, and Jack Black enjoys giving flirting lessons to Karen Gillan. To be able to escape the game, they have to pay attention to the clues they are given along the way, and they have to learn to tap into their specific abilities, and also avoid their character's weaknesses.  They each have three “lives,” so only two do-overs.  And most importantly, they have to learn how to work together, so they can all survive.

            Along the way, there are some good sight gags, a little PG-13 humor, and the clever use of computer graphics to insert, say, charging rhinos, or prowling jaguars, or even a docile elephant.  It's all part of the game.  And we even get to tie up that loose end from 1995.

            With all the very serious movies on the marquee at the moment, this is the lighthearted choice.  Feel free to have fun with the silliness.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association