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Variation on a theme: ‘Jumanji’ reboot is a series of missed opportunities

(l to r) Kevin Hart (Franklin "Moose" Finbar), Dwayne Johnson (Dr. Smolder Bravestone), Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse) and Jack Black (Professor Shelly Oberon). (Photo: Sony)

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
3 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Jake Kasdan
Writer: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Chris Van Allsburg
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
Genre: Action, Comedy, Adventure
Rated: PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language

Synopsis: While serving detention, four teenagers discover an old gaming system that literally transports them to the jungle landscape of a game called “Jumanji.”

Review: The hardest films to review are those that leave me feeling ambivalent. I liked 1995’s “Jumanji,” although in retrospect my general warmth for the film has more to do with nostalgia than it does with the quality of the film itself. So, when you hear someone say that 2017’s reboot of the franchise is better than the original, that’s probably accurate. I’d still rather watch the original.

2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a nod to the source material with a bit of “The Breakfast Club” and “Tron” thrown in. Sadly, it feels like the writers are only half committed to the video game aspects of the story as they include a few jokes and gimmicks that reference the former rigidity of older video games, but they leave so many video game tropes on the table unused that if you were to start the film halfway through you might not ever realize that the events are taking place inside a video game. That’s incredibly problematic.

I’m also not sure who the intended audience is. The book and original film clearly targeted a family audience, but this film is more vulgar and seems to be aiming for a teenage audience. I suppose when you put a vapid teenage girl into the body of Jack Black it is inevitable that she’ll obsess over his anatomy.

The performances are fine as everyone is given the chance to chew the scenery, but outside of some hand-to-hand combat there really isn’t much here to challenge them.

What I missed the most from the original film is that area where the world of Jumanji collides with the real world. Digital animals running amok of a city was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the original.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a fine distraction, but it wastes so many opportunities that it never lives up to its potential.

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