The premise of “Jumanji,” a holiday hit 22 Christmases ago, was that a board game brought jungle animals into the real world to chase Robin Williams around the house. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” a surprisingly peppy quasi-sequel, updates and reverses it. Now it’s a video game that magically sucks its players into its perilous world, represented by the avatars they chose at the start of the game. Those avatars might be very different from their real-world selves. You see the potential for comedy here.
So did director Jake Kasden (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) and the two pairs of writers — Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (“Spider-Man: Homecoming,” TV’s “Community”), Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (TV’s “Zoo”) — responsible for it. “Welcome to the Jungle” emphasizes its humor, with a few scenes that feel like sketches (not in a bad way) and only a casual interest in jungle adventure (though that’s handled well enough) as it conveys its ironic message about only having one life and making the most of it.
We briefly meet four disparate high school students: Spencer (Alex Wolff), a gangly, uncertain nerd; Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the hulking jock who was Spencer’s friend in childhood but shuns him now; Martha (Morgan Turner), a sullen alterna-girl; and Bethany (Madison Iseman), a vain, entitled brat who lives on Instagram. While serving detention together and cleaning out an old storage room, they find a gaming console with the Jumanji cartridge and four controllers (the only part of the movie I find implausible), then find themselves inside the game.
The game world looks to us like the real world, not a digital one, and our four heroes are the characters they randomly chose at the start: Spencer is Dwayne Johnson, now playing a fearful boy who’s allergic to everything; Fridge is Kevin Hart, an alpha male in the body of a goofy sidekick; Martha is a badass fighter played by Karen Gillan; and Bethany is Jack Black. They have the knowledge and skills of their avatars (e.g., one’s a zoologist) mixed with their own personalities, which are now comically incongruous with their physical appearances. To get out of the game, they must save the jungle world of Jumanji from the spell it’s under by finding the sacred blah blah and returning it to the yada yada.
[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee.]
B (1 hr., 59 min.; )