Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

While the technology made have been upgraded, the screenwriting for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle hasn’t advanced much in the past two decades.

This remake of the 1995 adventure film based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg is an on-screen story of man against beast in which the outcome is never in doubt — and the action isn’t compelling enough along the way.

The story trades a board game for a video game, specifically a vintage console discovered by teenager Spencer (Alex Wolff) and three classmates stuck in detention. They crank it up out of curiosity, and are suddenly transported into the fantasy world of the game — one in which the players are trapped in a jungle filled with wild animals, able to escape only after finding and returning a lost jewel before a villain (Bobby Cannavale) secures it.

But instead of themselves, the teens are transformed into corresponding characters who conveniently are nothing like them. Nerdy Spencer becomes a bulked-up adventurer (Dwayne Johnson), a muscular jock turns into a diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), a social-media princess becomes an overweight scientist (Jack Black), and a shy girl turns into a sultry fighting machine (Karen Gillan).

The film compromises the whimsical charm of the source material in favor of a star vehicle for its charismatic actors, playing against type amid some exotic landscapes.

Those same stars deserve credit for their amusing performances, essentially in body-switching roles as neurotic teenagers, and the array of sight gags and one-liners produces some scattered big laughs.

As directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), the result also is technically proficient, with seamless special effects lending intensity to some of the confrontations with creatures great and small.

However, the film’s fidgety target demographic might realize that it would be more fun to actually play themselves rather than watching their favorite celebrities compete. Do you want the gaming experience or the reality show?

At any rate, the screenplay stumbles in its attempts to tie the perilous mayhem together with its bookend coming-of-age sequences involving themes of acceptance and self-esteem, and how such lessons translate from the fictional realm to the real world.

Innocuous and unnecessary, and with zero nostalgic value, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle seems motivated more by financial than creative means. Typically in playing that game, nobody wins.


Rated PG-13, 119 minutes.