It’s exciting, very funny and (to me) the surprise hit of the season. Dare I say it: I had more fun watching this enjoyable movie than I did the bloated Star Wars extravaganza.
It’s a Jumanji for the age. You may remember the original Jumanji (twenty two years ago) with Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst. Then, the key characters were sucked into a board game. In this new iteration (Welcome to the Jungle) the board game has been replaced by a dated Atari video game. (And Robin Williams has been replaced by Dwane, The Rock, Johnson).
The story, vaguely themed around growing up and learning to accept others, centres around four key stock characters: the nerd (Alex Wolff from Patroits Day), the Black quarterback jock, ( Ser’Darius Blain) the hot party girl (Madison Iseman) and the dowdy, shy one (Morgan Turner). These kids have all been placed in school detention (the American High School is probably the most defining idea of Americana in Hollywood movies) and, upon discovery of the game, all choose an avatar. Better to play a dumb ‘90’s video game than suffer the enforced isolation of detention.
No sooner have they chosen their avatars than they’re zapped into a lush jungle. There, they’re instructed to find and replace a gem stolen from the “Jaguar’s Eye”, or else….
The fun starts with the avatars they become. The nerd morphs into Dwane Johnson, amazed at his pecs and his super-manliness. No more bullying him. The muscular quarter backer turns into the diminutive, loquacious Kevin Hart. He has to learn how to fend for himself as a small guy. Just as well he’s become a famous zoologist. The dowdy, shy one turns into Martha (Karen Gillan), a mid-drift baring, shorts revealing hottie (who has mastered the art of Combat Dancing. When cornered by the bad guys, just turn on the disco and unleash her). The party girl turns into Jack Black – an overweight middle-aged man, who happens to be a genius cartographer and who has, much to her amazement, that thing between his legs, which she must learn to use.
Jack, channeling his inner party girl, also has to instruct Martha (Gillan) into the not so subtle art of flirtation – the hair, the pouts, the walk etc- in what must be one of the funniest movie scenes this year
Director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher and son of Lawrence who wrote Raiders of the Lost Arc, Star Wars VII etc) has managed to find the perfect balance between laugh out loud silliness and action scenes, so thrillingly staged that even Bond would be proud.
His cast is first class. Dwane Johnson is such a behemoth of a man (with a mean raised eyebrow) that he can allow himself the latitude to play the nerd to great comic effect. Add to that funnymen Jack Black as a teenage girl and Kevin Hart being himself and you have a priceless comic trio. Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) complements this trio of jokers nicely. She’s yet another talented Brit with a flawless American accent. Seems an unwritten rule that every major production must have at least one of them. Chris McKenner (Spider-Man:Homecoming) gave the plot enough twists and turns to keep it lively without ever coiling in on itself.
And here, we’re back to Star Wars. The damn force just won’t leave us be.
JUMANJI. WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. Dir: Lawrence Kasdan. With: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan. Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Rhys Darby, Bobby Carnavale. Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers (Spider-Man Homecoming), Scott Rosenberg (Zoo), Jeff Pinker (Zoo). Cinematographer: Gyula Pados (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials). Filmed mainly in Honolulu, Hawaii