Despite it being a box office success, I was never a great admirer of the Jumanji film released in 1995 starring Robin Williams. The special effects seemed to dominate an otherwise dull children’s film that had no real point other than to serve as a reminder of how innovative E.T. and Jurassic Park were. Forgettable is a fairly apt description. The anthesis is true of this lively reboot/sequel that is an outright crowd-pleaser. I didn’t think there was an ounce of creativity left to be mined from this concept, but the writers have delivered an imaginative spin on the material while the cast nails their roles with gusto.
Nerdy, diminutive sized Spencer; muscular, football stud Fridge; beautiful, self-absorbed Bethany; and shy antisocial Martha are sentenced to detention for violating school policies. While confined to the bowels of the high school they stumble upon a retro gaming system preloaded with a cartridge for the game, Jumanji. They each choose their player avatar and are transported into their virtual characters within the game. Spencer goes from geek to Adonis in the form of Dwayne Johnson, Fridge becomes the pint-sized Kevin Hart, Bethany is transformed into Jack Black, and Martha takes the form of a stunning ass-kicker Ruby (Karen Gillan.)
The foursome is tasked with going through a series of challenges that will test the weakness of their characters and themselves. They must deliver a gem to its resting place atop a mountainside carved in the shape of a cougar. The body-switch aspect of the story is handled perfectly with just the right amount of exaggeration, raunchiness, and comedic creativity. Jack Black should be noted for his underplayed but nicely realized performance within a blockbuster. Johnson is his charismatic self, and Hart gets some of the film’s biggest laughs. It’s a home-run in terms of casting the appropriate actors for these roles.
Jumanji is an extremely well-executed film. It’s the type of movie that makes people love the movies. It surely won’t appear on any year-end best-of lists but it ranks high on the entertainment value meter, and that counts for something too.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black