When it comes to inoffensive, quasi-family-friendly fun at the theater this holiday season, you could do worse than Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. You could also do better. Hell, you can do whatever you want, you don’t have to listen to me. But if you want my advice, I’d steer clear of this one unless you have some tweens who need to come down from their Christmas sugar highs and you want to sequester them in a dark room for two hours while you nap. Two hours it is, and you’ll feel every minute of it — although I can confidently say that this one isn’t in the running for my “Worst Of” list this year, so I guess there’s that.
Those with fond memories of the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg or the 1995 Robin Williams film will see little here that’s recognizable beyond the name. The premise is very loosely related to that of the original story, and there is a brief allusion to Williams’ character in the previous film, but now the action takes place inside a video game. I guess the filmmakers thought that millennials would be too hip for board games but would catch a reference to a 20-plus-year-old movie? I don’t know. Similarly perplexing was the decision to ground Welcome to the Jungle’s story rules in the tradition of old-school adventure games rather than the side-scrolling console platformers that the art department seemed to think the script was talking about, but I digress.
What works here is largely a function of the ensemble cast leaning heavily into the comedic elements of the script, with Jack Black and Kevin Hart doing most of the heavy lifting in that regard. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan more than hold their own against the Black and Hart in the comedy department, however, and it’s their performances that give the film its few genuinely enjoyable moments. It might have been inspired casting to let Jack Black channel a social-media-obsessed mean girl for most of the film, but why is Bobby Cannavale here as the villain? Your guess is as good as mine, but thankfully he doesn’t have much screen time with which to chew scenery.
This is the inherent dichotomy that runs throughout this latest iteration of Jumanji: For every joke or story beat that solidly lands, there are several that miss the mark. I could watch Black teach Gillan how to flirt all day, but why is there a weird subplot in which Black’s teenage alter ego has fallen in love with a 30-something metal drummer? And a metal drummer who apparently missed the memo that Lars Ulrich is the worst? Mysteries such as these abound in Jumanji, and while the plot itself may have a requisite degree of resolution, the reason for its existence does not. Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.