I didn’t realize it at the time when it first came out, but back in 1995 when Robin Williams starred in the live action adaptation of the children’s book based on a mystical board game; “Jumanji.” The movie was whimsical but it was also dark, emotional and intensely compelling in ways no one expected. This was also one of Williams’s earliest ventures into roles outside of his comical, cartoony side popularized by his role as the Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin.” Since his death, everything he’s worked in feels much more precious and cherished…so imagine my surprise when I heard Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was creating a comedic sequel to “Jumanji” with his recent “Central Intelligence” co-star, Kevin Hart.
Four unlikely teenagers all end up in detention on a Saturday morning; forced to clean out the school’s basement when they come across an old video game called “Jumanji.” Once activated, the game sucks the teenagers into the jungle world of Jumanji; literally transforming them into the video game’s avatars (played by The Rock, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gilliam respectively). With strange new skills, bodies and a limited number of lives, the avatars must work their way through the game’s many dangerous inhabitants; human and animal alike, and return to the real world and their real bodies or else it will be game over forever for all of them.
I was always weary of this new approach to one of my favorite William’s movies. It looked far too comedic and different to feel like it has any natural connections to the original. I wanted to give it a fair shot and when I did, I got the same treatment William’s got in his grave: a slap in the face. This feels like a less funny version of “The Breakfast club” mixed with a video game parody. This doesn’t feel like “Jumanji” and most importantly…this doesn’t feel funny. There were maybe two instances in the film where people actually laughed in the theater, and one of them involved Jack Black’s avatar learning how to use his penis for the first time…yeah. 90% of the comedy just relies on Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson complaining towards each other; like they just like working with each other so much they just decided to do whatever movie script was available at the time.
There’s no heart, no drama, no character development that can be seen a mile away before the kids even get sucked into the game. The concept of video game avatars and some of the Meta game jokes are kind of clever, but too much of the humor relies on the star power’s humor which just doesn’t feel like it mixes into the chemical concoction the writers were hoping for. Jack Black playing a teenage girl in a man’s body is a toss-up, sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s just downright annoying. The film’s called “welcome to the jungle”, but it looks more like the most cliché Hollywood cleared landscape with too many Indiana Jones copycat thugs and chase sequences and crappily computer rendered animals. Not that I want to see worse CGI, but it’s kind of insulting when a movie with the word “jungle” in its title barely has any damn animals in it.
Had this film be called something else like “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Game Vines” or “Game On”; something else, it wouldn’t feel as insulting and cheap as it does. But no matter how times I’ve mentioned it before, it can’t be helped; you can’t see this movie without inevitably making comparisons to the 1995 original and even without that amazing predecessor leading the way, this film still is marginal at best. I give Johnson and Gilliam credit, they’re at least trying and produce most of the few entertaining or amusing moments in the film. Hart is maddeningly annoying from start to finish and Jack Black playing a girl isn’t as consistently funny as you think it could be. This is one of those sequels that you wonder why they bother even making it in the first place when you consider how long it took to come out after the first one.
Overall, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is bland, pitifully unfunny collection of actors who may have had fun working together, but we definitely don’t have fun watching them on screen. Everything that was done here, “Jumanji” did better, with more heart, more talent, more humor and just more in general. Dwayne Johnson assured fans this movie would honor Robin Williams when people expressed their valid concerns. Aside from one reference, this film dishonors his work more than anything else. If Johnson or anyone else working on this movie really wanted to honor William’s work in “Jumanji”, they could have done it by simply NOT making the movie
I give “Jumanji: Welcome to the jungle” a 2 out of 10.