|Directed by||:||Jake Kasdan||Produced by||:||Matt Tolmach, William Teitler||Story by||:||Chris McKenna||Starring||:||Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale||Production company||:||Gyula Pados.||Distributed by||:||Sony Pictures, Entertainment|
More than two decades after Robin Williams conquered that pesky board game, “Jumanji” has been resurrected with more stars (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black) and a comedy director. The result, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” is a sweet and generally entertaining body-swap lark with some nice messages about being yourself.
Why Jumanji, though, is a head-scratcher. Even speaking as someone who was 12 when the game came out and who genuinely enjoyed the 1995 Robin Williams adventure-fantasy film about being swept up in a board game come to life, the idea that a die-hard Jumanji fan base exists or that the Jumanji brand needs a reboot seems dubious at best.
The conceit in the new movie is that when you’re transported into the game, you are suddenly a character in the game — in body, voice and skill set but with your earthbound personality pretty much intact. This is how a group of mismatched teens sharing the same detention, including the nerdy, shy Spencer (Alex Wolff), the football player Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the superficial popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) and the too-smart for gym class Martha (Morgan Turner), transform into avatars played by Dwayne Johnson (Spencer), Kevin Hart (Fridge), Jack Black (Bethany) and Karen Gillan (Martha).
It’s a role reversal for everyone – the nerdy girl is hot now (and scantily clad), the hot girl is a middle-age man, the skinny guy is the Rock and the big football player is now tiny and wimpy — and they all have to go through the stages of learning to accept their new bodies, talents and shortcomings.
There is, of course, a lot of easy comedy in these situations (Spencer admiring his new muscles and Bethany getting used to her new anatomy among them), and all the main actors are kind of great at imitating the facial expressions of their teenage counterparts, especially Johnson and Black.