Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart Directed by Jake Kasdan

Running Time 2hr, PG-13

My Rating: B+

Despite running a little on the long side, 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a zippy action comedy that’s perhaps the closest thing we have to a summer action movie during this nippy winter season. It’s also the best stuck-in-a-video-game thriller since 2001’s “Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase.”

Like its 1995 counterpart, which also revolved around a game named Jumanji, “Welcome to the Jungle” is driven by characters grappling with a seemingly innocent pastime making its way into their real lives. But the similarities end there. While 1995’s “Jumanji” saw a board game infiltrating the everyday, the 2017 one finds characters quite literally getting trapped inside the game.

This time, the people being jerked around by this magical diversion are a quartet of teens stuck in detention. And this bunch is just as mismatched as the one in “The Breakfast Club” (1985). There’s Spencer (Alex Wolff), a lanky germaphobe who used to be BFFs with muscled football player Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain). There’s also Martha (Morgan Turner), a girl genius so haughty, you’d swear her mean streak were part of a gag. And then there’s Bethany (Madison Iseman) a would-be Instagram celeb who wouldn’t dream of going a day without posting a #IWokeUpLikeThis #Flawless selfie to kick off her morning.

Akin to the kids in that aforementioned teen movie, this posse’s going to have to learn to get along. Today, they’ve been tasked with cleaning up the school’s basement until their detention time’s up, though the principal threatens a longer punishment if the place isn’t spotless by the end of the day.

No one really takes him seriously. And this becomes especially true when a television set, as well as a video game console befit with an unfamiliar game called “Jumanji,” is spotted over in the corner. Figuring they’ll have plenty of time to both play a couple rounds on this foreign game and clean up their school’s mess, this unlikely foursome plugs in.

A couple seconds later, though, and all are starring in their very own episode of “The Twilight Zone”: thanks to some inexplicable force, the teens have been sucked inside the “Jumanji” video game, transformed into the characters they chose to embody during phase one.

Spencer has been reimagined as a bulky action hero with a boomerang fetish (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Fridge is now a puberty-voiced zoologist with a weakness for cake and gratuitous complaining (Kevin Hart). Martha’s an improbably dressed fighter babe (Karen Gillan). Bethany’s a pudgy, bearded cartographer (Jack Black).

The mission? Keep a cursed emerald out of the hands of a rugged archvillain (Bobby Cannavale ) and return it to its rightful place. The catch? You only have three lives to do so. Lose your last one, and you actually die.

The movie, of course, never gets to that point, and it shouldn’t need to: This is a frisky comic thriller exercise meant to be mindless and charming. The film’s title is clearly a tribute to the culturally ubiquitous Guns N’ Roses song of the same name, and the movie in store is about as equally lovable. Like the song, fun and games are here, and so are sexy girls and bright lights. But the whole “you’re gonna diiiiieee” part’s delivered with a wink.

It’s a rollicking good time. The stars are in their element (Black is a particular blast as a materialistic teenage girl trapped inside the body of a mouth-breathing, bespectacled potato). The comedy’s as sharpened and self-referential as the miniature dramatic breaks are perfectly over-the-top. The action’s exaggerated and sometimes hysterical. What more could you want from the theater on a freezing cold weekend evening?

A student at the University of Washington, Blake will major in Visual Communications or Journalism.

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