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4 January, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

www.telegraph.co.uk
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Films based on video games have been dependably awful since Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo pulled on their overalls for the Super Mario Bros movie in 1993. But films that draw inspiration from games – that riff on their visual grammar and toy with their odd formal conventions – are often much more fun: try Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainess for starters.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle falls somewhere between the two groups, insofar as it’s based on a video game that doesn’t exist. This older-skewing children’s adventure is a long-range sequel to the 1995 family film Jumanji, in which an African menagerie, plus Robin Williams, came stampeding out of a magical, jungle-themed board game.

But that was then. “Who plays board games?” grimaces a teenager in the film’s winking prologue – a comment which prompts the enchanted box to shape-shift into a video game cartridge, which is later unearthed by four teens on detention in the present. Clutching one controller apiece, they’re sucked into the game’s treacherous tropical world, where escape to the real world lies at the end of a five-level quest.

As ideas for franchise rejuvenations go, this is an unusually slick one, and is made all the peppier by the teens’ continuing struggle to acclimatise to their new in-game avatars’ forms. In the fine old body-swap comedy style, they’ve all picked against type. Geeky Spencer is the musclebound heartthrob (Dwayne Johnson), while strapping football jock Fridge fins himself demoted to pint-sized sidekick (Kevin Hart).

Introverted Martha becomes a pneumatic Lara Croft type (Karen Gillan), while selfie-mad mean girl Bethany turns into… well, Jack Black in a bow tie and pith helmet. Laughs flow fast thanks to all four actors committing gamely to the bit, and the four-strong writing team doing their damnedest to winkle out every last gag from the mismatches.

One skit involves Black’s Bethany squeamishly attempting a comfort break with her brand new male apparatus while Johnson and Hart shout advice from a bush. It’s not exactly Inside Out, though it’s hard not to smirk.

The video game aspect is less cunningly sussed out: all five “levels” of Jumanji look indistinguishable, while the characters’ mission, returning gemstone A to clifftop shrine B, rarely involves them doing anything all that game-like.

Easy laughs are all it aims for, such as having background characters, like Rhys Darby’s jeep-revving guide, repeat the same chunks of dialogue ad tedium, or giving each hero three lives each, which brings significantly higher stakes to the slapstick. Director Jake Kasdan pushed silliness and send-ups to such divine heights in his 2007 satirical biopic Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story that it’s hard not to feel a sharper version of Jumanji remains somewhere out there for the taking. (Perhaps now that board games are back in fashion, a hipster reboot awaits.)

But in its present form – hyperactive, dopey, and hammered into shape like a Hollywood sitcom – it’s a passable school holiday jaunt.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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