Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

[6.5]

A big-budget studio action-comedy is one of the least likely candidates to catch my attention these days, but a few people insisted Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a cut above the rest. And while the bar is low, they were right. The movie centers around four teenagers sentenced to clean out a school basement during detention. While there, they find a video game (board games are so ’90s, I guess?) that sucks them into its own jungle-adventure world, where if they die in the game, they die in real life.

In the game world, the teenagers are depicted as their avatars — played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. And that’s what makes this movie at all interesting for me — it’s a body-switching flick! I’ve always been a fan of body-switching movies, and this is probably one of the most successful ones. Much of the comedy comes from the teenagers’ nervous, insecure personalities coming out of muscle-bound Johnson or Gillan’s sexy Tomb Raider-inspired facade. Jack Black plays the avatar of a phone-obsessed neo-valley girl who develops a crush on another player (adorable Nick Jonas) whose been stuck in the game for twenty years. It’s refreshing to see a popular piece of entertainment embrace same-sex flirting on any level.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an attempt by the studio to launch a new Jumanji franchise. Fortunately, you don’t really need to see the original, mediocre 1995 movie for any frame of reference. You can just wade right into this one. Don’t worry about the air of desperation around the concept or the marketing. Charm and personality are the real winners of this game.

With Bobby Cannavale and Rhys Darby.

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