The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 A breakfast club-ish foursome stuck in detention get sucked into a video game in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a totally suitable answer to the question “What movie can we take the junior-high-ish aged kids and also grandma to go see tonight?”

For the record: I have never seen the 1995 Robin Williams-starring Jumanji. As it came in the middle of Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire/Patch Adams years, I have never been able to bring myself to watch it but that didn’t get in my way of enjoying this movie.
Geeky Spencer (Alex Wolff) gets detention for writing school papers for childhood friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), who needed the help to stay on the football team. In addition to his detention, Fridge also finds himself kicked off the team. Popular Bethany (Madison Iseman) gets detention for video chatting about her boyfriend drama during a class quiz. Loner Martha (Morgan Turner) gets detention for mouthing off to her gym teacher. 
As part of detention, the four must clean out a storage room where they happen upon a ye olden (the 1990s) video game. The kids decide to play to pass the time and pick their avatars only to find themselves sucked into the equally ancient non-flatscreen TV.
Inside the game, they are in a jungle. Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) is now a muscle-y badass who looks like The Rock. The suddenly shorter Fridge (Kevin Hart) learns that his character’s main job is to carry Spencer’s character’s weapons. Martha (Karen Gillan) is a martial arts expert who is inconveniently scantily dressed for a mosquito-filled jungle. Bethany (Jack Black) didn’t consider that her character’s name, “Shelly,” might be short for “Sheldon” but learns that she can read maps pretty well.
As an in-game guide explains, the characters need to lift a curse put on Jumanji by Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), who stole a magical MacGuffin, er, jewel from a statue. The foursome must pass through a series of challenges to return the jewel but, as in any good video game, they have a limited number of lives with which they can succumb to the game’s various dangers: gunmen on motorcycle, man-eating hippos, venomous snakes, cake.
I try to be open-minded when I go to movies, even the ones that look not so hot, but I’ll admit I feared this one would be painful. Maybe low expectations helped! Or maybe the very solid cast doing good comic work and a story that leaned in to its follow-the-puzzle format is just a very decent movie. 
In last week’s Ferdinand review, I mentioned how John Cena, who voiced the gentle bull, was doing The Rock duty. Johnson is essentially playing a variation on the Ferdinand-type here — a guy with enormous arm muscles and an ability to smolder and yet who has to remind himself “don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry” during a scary moment. Johnson’s comic skills have always been pretty sharp and they are well-matched to this character. Likewise, Jack Black’s silliness, channeled into the idea of a diva-ish (but not total airhead) popular girl, works really well. Hart does a good job connecting his physical comedy to what’s happening to Fridge (being benched) back in the real world. Gillan is equally convincing as a girl not sure what to make of her avatar’s sexed-up appearance (while also allowing the movie to slip in a few bits of commentary about the silliness of such characters’ dress and presentation). 
The movie has a very straightforward structure — first this challenge, then that challenge, etc. — and riffs enough on it to keep things lively.  The movie can be silly but it isn’t lazy. It has action, energy and characters I didn’t mind spending time with. This feels like the kind of movie that families of varying ages (say, 12 or so and up; there is some teen romance-y stuff) can all sit through together and have a reasonable amount of fun watching. B
Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language, according to the MPAA. Directed by Jake Kasdan with a screenplay by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an hour and 59 minutes long and distributed by Columbia Pictures. 

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