Film review by Jason Day of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the comedy action adventure about people who are sucked into a computer game. Starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
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During detention, four different High School students are sucked into an old computer game about a mysterious and dangerous jungle kingdom called Jumanji. They change into their game ‘avatars’, inheriting their strengths and weaknesses that are the polar opposite of their real selfs. They have to work together to get out of Jumanji before their three lives are up.
Sneaking in just before Christmas for some festive box office action (the film is even set during Christmas) comes this remake of the much-loved, inventive if very loud and eventually tiresome Robin Williams 1995 hit.
Smartly updated for the gaming generation with a script that plays with the phraseology of modern youth and the ‘older’ gen. of 20 years ago (I use ‘older’ cautiously as that’s my youth I’m writing about).
Slight aside – did I, like Nick Jonas here, ever use words like ‘Stoked’? I went to University in Stoke on Trent around that time, but that never made me feel ‘Stoked’. Not in the slightest.
The opening scenes with the up to date versions of the heroes, appropriately all annoying US High Schoolers, is dull and extended ad nauseum.
Uniformly glib and self-absorbed, they are drawn this way to make the switch to their game characters and their own personal evolution more noticeable. But come on writing team (there are four of them, one for each leading character, perhaps), get to the main action. The scenes comprise only a quarter of an hour of the film, but they feel double that.
I never usually get this kind of obvious, sex organ/bodily functions and crudity obsessed comedy, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had me giggling throughout and the rest of the audience in stitches.
The humour is well realised and smartly woven throughout the script, with some smart observations about how we live. “Are phones the same?” Jonas asks Black/Bethany, enquiring about what was a functional communication device for him in the mid-90’s but is welded to Bethany’s hands, an object which has created, sustains and also constrains her existence and the very meaning of being ‘real’ (ironically, the characters’ virtual avatars have qualities more relatable to a real world situation such as survival than their actual selves).
The cast work together extremely well and make this silly premise gripping, fun and completely entertaining.
Johnson continues to show what a confident leading man he is, spoofing his image as the tough guy with relish (his character has allergies and is afraid of everything from heights to squirrels).
Brit Karen Gillan (from TV’s Dr Who) is a surprise and welcome addition, taking the lead with the physical action and fighting.
Hart has already nailed this brand of macho, streetwise, motor mouth comedy in previous films and, in terms of words spoken, has the lion’s share of the script and most of the funny lines.
He very nearly snaffles the best performance in the movie, but hats off to Jack Black as the older, pudgier, hairier incarnation of Bethany, the High School Instagram queen. Watch him in the background shots, delicately swishing his way around the foliage, running his fingers through his hair, flirting with Johnson even when he (she) is aware of their gender change.
He also makes the most of the expected genital humour. Asking for advice about how to pee with a penis, Hart and Johnson take him (her) through the etiquette of male public urinating. “Guys, this is soo much easier!”
Later, after hugging handsome Nick Jonas whom Bethany fancies, he/she gets an erection. “These things are CRAZY!” he/she states.
Again, these aren’t the sort of lines I usually find funny. More often I close my eyes and cringe inwardly, but Black has a way of making them sound naive, innocent and wonderfully off the cuff, as if a teenage girl really has gone through a body-swap and is amazed at the change.
Way down the cast list, it’s great to see Tim Matheson, as Jonas’ clinically depressed father, back on the big screen (we shall ignore his supporting role in 2002’s Van Wilder with Ryan Reynolds).
For more, see the trailer on the official website.
Cast & credits
Director: Jake Kasdan.
Producers: William Teitler, Matt Tolmach.
Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner.
Camera: Gyula Pados.
Music: Henry Jackman.
Sets: Owen Paterson.
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Tim Matheson.