‘I’ ON CULTURE
New film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a light-hearted bit of fluff. Think of it as Breakfast Club meets Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is not a great movie, but a lot of fun to watch. There is nothing groundbreaking or new, but it allows some very good comic actors to do their thing really well.
Four kids wind up in detention: a nerd who lives for video games, a jock, a spoiled pretty girl and a girl who is there because she told off the gym teacher. While cleaning out a really nasty room as their punishment, they find an old video game, Jumanji. Playing along to pass the time, they choose avatars, and suddenly they are pulled into the game, landing in a beast-filled jungle.
The young nerd becomes Dr. Smolder Braveheart, played by Dwayne Johnson, muscles and all. The top athlete becomes pint-size Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), who looks around, wailing, “Where’s the top two feet of me?” The girl who hated gym becomes martial arts expert Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Best of all, pretty Bethany becomes Dr. Shelly Oberon, a heavyset archaeologist (Jack Black). All are in shock for a few minutes until a hippo comes up behind Oberon and swallows him.
It turns out, of course, that they are in the middle of a real live video game and are expected to retrieve a huge gem that belongs in the eye of a sacred jaguar idol. Our heroes have to fight against increasingly difficult challenges designed by the evil Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Along the way, they meet up with Alex (Nick Jonas), who has been trapped inside the game for 20 years. And they learn, of course, a lot of life’s lessons, like the need for cooperation.
There are some wonderfully funny bits in the movie. Watching the young nerd looking at his arms (Johnson’s arms) in stupefaction is great. Johnson, who often manages to mock his own image, does that here. He is often terrified of what is to come, although, since it’s a movie, he manages to handle unbelievable stunts. All the leads manage to somehow be the inner kid even while showing the game traits.
Hart is funny throughout. Finding himself relegated to Braveheart’s sidekick and “weapons valet,” he manages to whine and complain constantly, even as he demonstrates bravery and real heart. Black, however, is hilarious. He brilliantly plays the young girl, who seems to spend most of the first half of the movie wondering where her phone is. One funny scene involves him needing advice to go to the bathroom, since he has suddenly changed sexes.
But even better is the scene in which Black attempts to teach Gillan how to flirt and distract men. Watching Black teaching a gorgeous woman how to flip her hair (no matter what she does, it falls in front of her face) and to walk in a sexy manner (it is remarked afterward that she walks like she had twisted her ankle) is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a long time.
Gillan easily holds her own working in tandem with these expert actors. Her physical comedy is really good, but she is able to be both the battling Ruby and the sweet, unsure-of-herself Martha, something needed as her relationship with Johnson develops.
Cannavale was over the top most of the time, but that is something that is essentially required, and I liked Nick Jonas in his smaller part.
The computer-generated animals and jungle were all done nicely, although not on the top level we are used to, but that might have been a plus.
A great movie, no. A really good one? Not really. But it was a lot of fun — one of the better times I’ve had in the movies in a long while.
This one is worth seeing, particularly since we’re in a season of “serious art films,” all designed to go for major awards. This one gets my award as funniest of the year.