Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Jumanji: Unwelcome is the Remake

1995's Jumanji isn't a great adaptation of the award-winning children's book about a game which brings jungle chaos to the real world, but it works well-enough as a family-friendly adventure. Fast-forward to 2017 and Jumanji is reinvented as a video game, a concept which gives the sequel/remake the ability to cast big name stars playing kids trapped in the game. While the concept is initially interesting, nothing about the plot makes sense in the structure of a video game as the script quickly devolves into a hot mess.

The film begins in Breakfast Club-style when four students, a nerd (Alex Wolff), jock (Ser'Darius Blain), popular girl (Madison Iseman), and freak (Morgan Turner), get thrown in detention by a stern principal. Finding an old video game in the school's basement, the foursome are transported into the world of Jumanji as the avatars they chose: the hero (Dwayne "It's Okay to Call Me The Rock Again" Johnson), his zoologist sidekick (Kevin Hart), a cartographer (Jack Black, basically doing Rob Schneider's shtick from The Hot Chick), and a dance-fighter (Karen Gillan). As in the original, the group will discover another player (Nick Jonas) trapped in the game.

Following the excruciatingly long set-up to get them into the game, the movie reintroduces the characters and provides the basics of what actions are needed to be taken to win. There's some fun here as each learns about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters they chose, get their first taste of the wild, and the are introduced to the concept of a limited number of lives. After assembling four talented and funny actors, neither director Jake Kasdan nor his team of four screenwriters can think of anything remotely interesting them for them to do. Yes, The Rock is cool, Gillan is sexy, and Hart and Black are funny... now how about giving them some direction rather than forcing them to try and charm themselves through the script? Instead, we get a misfire of dick jokes, Kevin Hart complaining about everything, Jack Black's gender humor, and Karen Gillan attempting to be awkwardly sexy.

Meanwhile, especially for a video game made in the 1990s, the goals, levels, and actions required by our heroes appear to have been made up on the fly. Say what you want about the Robin Williams film, but there was an obvious progression to the players rolling the dice and moving around the gameboard. Also, each roll brought forth a legitimately-threatening obstacle (at least for a family film). Perhaps because our characters are rarely in any real danger (remember, they can die and respawn multiple times), the new movie struggles mightily to build up any real tension (except that between the bickering players themselves... which of course disappears immediately when it's convenient to the plot).

The setting and CGI aren't bad. The film actually looks pretty good, although the army of crazy bikers makes little sense in the jungle setting (maybe they didn't have a large enough budget to keep using the rampaging rhinos, hippos, and elephants we see elsewhere in the film?). I've got to feel sorry for Bobby Cannavale as the game's over-the-top villain who apparently wasn't told he was in a comedy. While each of the main stars sneaks a moment or two to shine, such as The Rock's smolder, it's not something that Kasdan or the script ever seems able to build upon as the story moves into its next groanworthy moment. Yes there are laughs to be had, and adventure so ridiculous you might find it somewhat amusing, but the film is so uninspired the talented cast has to work overtime to try work through the next half-dozen pages of damn awful writing. Honestly, and this makes me more than a little sad for the actress, but the best performance of the film is Karen Gillan's completely inappropriate costume (obviously inspired by Lara Croft). It belongs in this movie; the rest of the cast does not.

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