By Liam Lacey
Rating: C minus
Jack Black, dressed as a bespectacled scientist on safari, is a video game avatar for a vain teenage girl (cue the hand-waving and vocal fry). Meanwhile, super-pumped Dwayne Johnson is the vessel for a high school nerd, which calls for nervousness and downcast eyes.
This broad acting exercise by these two lugs is pretty much the highlight of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a drawn-out action comedy with a complicated premise and lowest common denominator appeal.
Though possibly useful for getting the kids out of the house during the holidays, this end-of-year entry is unlikely to cause Academy voters to rewrite their ballots. As the title indicates, the movie is a sequel to the Joe Johnston's 1995 film starring Robin Williams, based on Chris Van Allsburg's children's book, about a board game that sucks players into a dangerous world. The original film benefited from Williams’ manic energy and the relatively new technology of digital animation. No such novelty lightens up the current offering, which adds a thin layer of gender jokes around a lot of recycled Indiana Jones predicaments, involving cliffs, snakes, monuments and charging animals.
The story starts in 1996, a teen-ager finds the haunted game on the beach. There's a video game cartridge inside and when he boots it up, he's taken into the game.
We jump forward to the present day, where four contemporary high-school students -- studious, introverted Spencer (Alex Wolff), football star Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), selfie-obsessed Bethany (Madison Iseman), and awkward loner Martha (Morgan Turner), discover the video game again in a school store-room while they're serving detention. They turn the game on, choose their game avatars and are sucked into the mountainous jungle world, which is played by Hawaii.
For their avatars, Spence picks Dr. Smolder Bravestone, who turns out to inhabit the body of Dwayne Johnson. Bethany opts for Professor Shelly Obero, who turns out to be Jack Black, and learns what it’s like to pee with a penis. Fridge goes for zoologist Moose Finbar, and becomes the diminutive, motor-mouthed Kevin Hart, and the shy Martha chooses biologist Ruby Roundhouse, a Lara Croft-style action star in shorts and a crop top. Ruby is played with a klutzy charm by Karen Gillan, who is reminiscent of Ellie Kemper, in the least familiar and most appealing performance here.
Director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and TV shows going back to Freaks and Geeks) is missing his comic touch here, in a movie that manages to be feel both too eventful and monotonous. After a long two-hours, it concludes, predictably, but for no reason, with the 30-year-old Guns N' Roses song that provides the second part of the title.
Perhaps there’s one recommendation for buying a ticket: the Hawaiian location looks a lot warmer than here these days.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. Opening Wednesday, Dec. 20 at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas, Imagine Cinemas-Carlton Cinema, Imagine Cinemas -Market Square, Silver City Yonge Eglinton and Silvercity, Yorkdale.