Movie Review: ‘Jumanji’
Up there was Dwayne Johnson on the big movie theater screen larger than life (and he’s large “in” life), battling a giant gorilla, then a giant wolf and then a giant alligator.
For a moment, I thought it was the opening scene for “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” in which Johnson stars and for which he’s a producer (through his Seven Bucks Productions), but it was the preview for “Rampage” (2018), in which Johnson stars.
Who could tell the difference?
And that’s the problem with “Jumanji,” a generic adventure movie in the mold of a Dwayne Johnson-starrer with de rigueur computer-generated animals, effects and action scenes. After leading roles in some 97 movies and TV shows, “Jumanji” is not much of a leap from the World Wrestling Entertainment champion’s first starring feature movie role in “The Scorpion King” (2002). At age 45, it’s time for Johnson to have his Bruce Willis role (“The Sixth Sense,” 1999) or Sylvester Stallone role (“Cop Land,” 1997).
By now, I review a Dwayne Johnson movie out of obligation since he has a “local connection,” as it’s said in journalese, as a Freedom High School graduate, a connection he seldom seems to play up. It’s time for Johnson, now Hollywood’s No. 1 male box office champion, highest-paid actor, No. 1 social media celebrity and seemingly all-around nice guy to take a serious role. Then again, look where that got the careers of his action hero box-office king predecessors Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone.
“Jumanji” is a mash-up, generally and even to some scenes, of “Jurassic Park,” 1993 (the huge jaguars, white rhinos and other creatures), “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” 1981 (the snakepit scene) “Romancing the Stone,” 1984 (an emerald the size of a football) and, improbably, “Big Trouble in Little China” (for a bizarre bazaar scene, and, by the way, the movie is slated for a Johnson remake. Perhaps yet another title for Johnson: King of Remakes?).
The conceit of “Jumanji” is that teens, Alex Wolff (Spencer), Morgan Turner (Martha), Madison Iseman (Bethany), Ser’Darius Blain (Anthony “Fridge”), Morgan Turner (Martha), and Mason Guccione (Alex) get teleported into a video game where they become adult avatars.
Dwayne Johnson (Dr. Smolder Bravestone, aka Spencer) has some good moments (You gotta love his arched right eyebrow entrance scene.) and there’s one scene straight out of a World Wrestling Entertainment show.
Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse, aka Martha) is funny in a dance combat scene and also a femme fatale training scene with Jack Black (Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, aka Bethany), who gets this week’s “At The Movies” Mug-O-Rama Award. And, while I’m an old liberal white guy, and might be over-reacting, the role of Kevin Hart (Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, aka Fridge) is stereotypical and borderline racist.
The surprise is Nick Jonas (Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, aka Alex), the most naturalistic and compelling actor in the entire movie.
Bobby Cannavale (Russel Van Pelt), an otherwise reliable actor, is mawkishly unbelievable as the movie’s antagonist, with a really horrendous snake and spider infestation in his head, heading up a “Mad Max” legion of motorcycle-riding, gun-toting villians.
Even the score by Henry Jackman is derivative, borrowing from Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (1942) brass fanfare, and riffs and sound effects from Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” (1973) James Bond theme.
While I am generally aghast when youths or adults chortle, “I’m bored,” since I am rarely bored, “Jumanji,” touted as a sequel to the 1996 movie that starred Robin Williams, and based on a board game, bored me.
Director Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher,” 2011; “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” 2007) hits the ploddingly-predictable plot points in the screenplay Kasdan wrote with Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, (screenwriters, “Spider-man: Homecoming,” 2017; “The Lego Batman Movie,” 2017), Scott Rosenberg (screenwriter, “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” 2000), and Jeff Pinkner (“The Dark Tower,” 2017), from a story by McKenna. The story is based on the 1981 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, Scenes unfold with little substance or surprise. Attempts at comedic dialogue mostly fall flat, especially when resorting to puerile jokes about body parts and bodily functions that can’t be politely described in a family-read publication.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is an unwelcome sequel. Your steadfast movie review dutifully awaits the next Dwayne Johnson blockbuster. But, hey, Dwayne, bro, your corporate empire is off the chart. It’s time to get serious about your movie acting career. Welcome to the Lehigh Valley for your next movie.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for adventure action, suggestive content and some language; Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 59 mins.; Distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonynous: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was filmed in Hawaii and Atlanta, Ga. Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” plays at the beginning of the credits. Stay to the very end to hear the “Jumanji” drum beats, probably drumming up business for a sequel. Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes
Box Office, Jan. 5: The third week was the charm for “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which became king of the box office jungle after two weeks at No. 2, with $36 million, and $244.3 million, three weeks, keeping “Insidious: The Last Key,” opening at No. 2 with $29.2 million, and dropping “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” two slots to No. 3 after three weeks at No. 1 with $23.5 million, $572.5 million, four weeks. 4. “The Greatest Showman” again held forth at No. 4, with $13.8 million, $75.9 million, three weeks. 5. “Pitch Perfect 3” dropped two places, $10.2 million, $85.9 million, three weeks. 6. “Ferdinand” slid one place, $7.7 million, $70.4 million, four weeks. 7. “Molly’s Game” dealt up six places, $7 million, $14.2 million, two weeks. 8. “Darkest Hour” stayed in place, $6.3 million, $28.3 million, seven weeks. 9. “Coco” puffed down three places, $5.5 million, $192 million, seven weeks. 10. “All the Money in the World” lost three places, $3.5 million, $20.1 million, two weeks.
Box Office, Dec. 29: “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” zoomed to a three-peat for the New Year’s weekend, with $66.8 million, $531.5 million, three weeks, with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” again hanging out at No. 2 with $66.2 million, $185.2 million, two weeks; “Pitch Perfect 3” again in tune at No. 3, with $21.6 million, $68.1 million, two weeks; and “The Greatest Showman” again holding forth at No. 4, with $20.9 million, $54.4 million, two weeks. 5. “Ferdinand” also stayed in the same place, $14.8 million, $57 million, three weeks. 6. “Coco” puffed along in the same place, $10 million, $182.4 million, six weeks. 7. “All the Money in the World,” $7.2 million, $14.3 million, since its Dec. 27 opening. 8. “Darkest Hour” kept the light on at the same place, $7 million, $19.6 million, six weeks. 9. “Downsizing” downsized one place, $6.2 million, $18.7 million, two weeks. 10. “Father Figures” dropped one place, $4.9 million, $14 million, two weeks.
Unreel, Jan. 12: “The Commuter,” PG-13: Jaume Collet-Serra directs Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Jonathan Banks in the Crime Thriller about a businessman who gets mixed up in a conspiracy on his commute home. “Paddington 2,” PG: Paul King directs the voice talents of Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, and Sally Hawkins in the Animation Comedy about Paddington, the Brown family, and his present for Aunt Lucy.