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edge staff writer


Game on! – ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’

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One of the realities of Hollywood’s love of sequels, remakes and reboots is that you’re guaranteed a fairly wide range of quality, though history shows that you’re much more likely to get a dud than a diamond. The most effective projects seem to be the ones that can manage to update a property while still retaining the aspects that made them successful in the first place.

That said, be honest – you’ve probably never spoken aloud (or even thought) the sentence “I sure would like to see an updated reboot of the 1995 family film ‘Jumanji’ – preferably starring The Rock.”

And yet that’s what we’ve gotten with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” It probably seems odd to be getting a movie like this some two decades after the original, but that’s not even the biggest surprise about the whole thing. The biggest surprise?

It’s actually pretty good.

The film starts in 1996 with a quick callback to the ending of the original film. A jogger on the beach discovers the Jumanji board game and takes it home to his son, who isn’t even a little interested in a stupid board game because he’s into video games. Jumanji – being magic – turns itself into a video game system. The kid plays it and, you know, gets Jumanjied.

Flash-forward to present day. Spencer (Alex Wolff, “The House of Tomorrow”) is a geeky kid helping his former best friend and football star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain, “Maybe Someday”) stay on the team by doing his homework. They get caught and sentenced to detention, alongside phone-obsessed popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman, TV’s “Still the King”) and the snarky, awkward Martha (Morgan Turner, “Wonderstruck”).

While digging through donation boxes, they discover the dusty, long-forgotten Jumanji video game. They decide to play and – of course – they also get Jumanjied.

They find themselves in the jungles of Jumanji, embodied by the avatars that they chose. Spencer is all-everything heartthrob hero Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson, “The Fate of the Furious”). Fridge is short-statured zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart, “Captain Underpants”). Martha is badass karate expert Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”). And Bethany is pudgy, pasty scientist Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black, “Kung Fu Panda 3”).

All they want is to get home, but to do that, they have to beat the game. Specifically, they have to restore the jewel known as the Jaguar’s Eye to the great statue at Jumanji’s center. Standing in their way is Bravestone’s rival, the sinister Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale, “Ferdinand”), who stole the jewel and used it to take control of all of Jumanji’s animal life.

And so, the group embarks on an epic adventure, learning how to combine their various skills in order to accomplish the tasks the game puts before them. But Jumanji can be a deadly place, with danger lurking around every corner, and with just three lives apiece, there are only so many mistakes that they can make before being trapped in the game forever.

It’s actually pretty refreshing to watch a movie like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” You don’t see nearly as many family-friendly live-action adventures as you used to; this is a prime example of just such a movie. It’s not a particularly sophisticated movie, but it really does have something for everyone – some great action set pieces, plenty of physical comedy, jokes both silly and smart, some charming awkward romance stuff, you name it. It’s just plain fun; it doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes sure that you don’t either.

It’s a bit of a departure for director Jake Kasdan, whose previous feature work includes raunchier fare like “Sex Tape” and “Bad Teacher,” but he shows a strong grasp of what makes a movie like this tick. He gives us likeable characters and a straightforward narrative marked by some engaging visuals and an appropriately brisk sense of pacing.

Of course, the casting for something like this is key. This kind of story is pure gold for The Rock; he can lean into his outsized charisma while also displaying the childlike charms that we rarely get to see in his standard fare. This movie needs a capital-M Movie Star – and that’s Dwayne Johnson. Hart has already proven to be a capable sidekick to the Rock in fast-paced action fare, so this pairing is a no-brainer. It’s a partnership that still works. Gillan could have gotten lost in such a high-profile cast, but instead holds her own beautifully. And I can’t say enough about Jack Black as a teenage girl – it could have been a tired one-note joke, but instead, stays fresh and clever in unexpected ways.

The real-life versions of the teens are fine, albeit ultimately a touch forgettable. Still, theirs are thankless roles that they tackle with real commitment, which is admirable. Cannavale is decent as the bad guy, sinister but not TOO sinister. Rhys Darby gets some laughs as the game’s NPC guide character. Oh, and there’s a Nick Jonas sighting as well, but we won’t get into that.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is good big-budget family fare, perfect for the holiday season. And if the early numbers are any indicator, it’s going to be the kind of box office success that opens the door for similarly-targeted films going forward. It’s fast-paced and funny and an easy way to kill a couple of hours for audiences of all ages.

[4.5 out of 5]


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