Senseless "Jumanji" Sequel Offers Nothing But Noise

Robin Williams starrer “Jumanji” was hardly a box office world-beater for Sony Pictures when it debuted on December 15, 1995, sparring with Pixar’s “Toy Story” (then in its fourth week) for family moviegoing dollars. “Jumanji” had legs though, carving out a legacy on VHS and cable, ensuring that, come 2017, millions of millennials would remember it more fondly that it deserved to be remembered when a belated sequel beckoned for their children.

With dear Robin Williams departed, Sony has called on “Central Intelligence” duo Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart to star. Then there’s Jack Black, who successfully reignited another 90s staple (“Goosebumps”) in 2015, Karen Gillan of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” fame, and pop star Nick Jonas. Add a clumsy format reformulation from board game to video game and Sony has their sequel “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle,” as loud and soulless a family movie as there’s been in years.

The pic centers on four teenagers – more accurately, four stereotypes of teenagers: Spencer the nerdy gamer (Alex Wolff), Anthony the towering jock (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha the hopelessly shy girl (Morgan Turner), and Bethany the Instagram-obsessed social butterfly (Madison Iseman). The four are sent to detention and end up in a dingy storage room, tasked with removing staples from old magazines. There they discover an old jungle-themed video game and are literally sucked in; the film finds most if its prospective humor in their character selection.

Spencer becomes the sinewy Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Anthony a diminutive zoologist named Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Hart), Martha turns into midriff baring commando Ruby Roundhouse, and, in the film’s would-be coup, Bethany transforms into the portly professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Black). Director Jake Kasdan (“Sex Tape”) and the film’s four screenwriters mine “Jack Black playing a self-absorbed teenage girl” for all it’s worth and then some, running the screenplay’s body swap theatrics into the ground early and often.

The pic’s repetitive humor would be more palatable if its accompanying story weren’t so lifeless. The screenwriters appear to have no concept of how action video games work, moving their characters haphazardly through a nondescript jungle with only fleeting instances of combat and problem-solving. A torpidly written villain played by Bobby Cannavale comes with the depth and menace of a nameless “Indiana Jones” henchman. Meanwhile, the script comments on the sexism inherent in Gillan’s character only to utilize it in all the wrong ways, leaving her to distract bad guys in a ludicrously skimpy outfit that the camera ogles with abandon.

The climactic moment – Kevin Hart charging into the frame on an elephant, screaming “Zoology, bitch!” – is the film’s essence: thoughtless, nonsensical, and aggressively unbefitting its target audience. The script’s surplus of penis references, human or otherwise, isn’t so much offensive as it is unnecessary, signaling a team of screenwriters that simply doesn’t know how else to be funny.

The original “Jumanji” is hardly an exemplar of family filmmaking; it’s unnecessarily violent, its storytelling shaggy. And yet it retains both an internal logic and Williams’ endless charm, two vital ingredients that its follow-up misses by lines of longitude. If a sexist, incomprehensible, two-hour CGI extravaganza that can’t even properly copy a middling 90s family comedy sounds like a good time, cheers: “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” is a bottomless pit angling for your money. Everyone else ought to find a different jungle.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: December 20, 2017
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenwriters: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Alex Wolff
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)