If you remember the premise of 1995’s Jumanji, starring the inimitable Robin Williams, you’ll recall that a magical board game opened a rift in the time-space continuum to suck in various wild animals and natural catastrophes from the depths of a jungle into the idyllic setting of a living room.
In the two decades since the original Jumanji (based on Chris Van Allsburg’s best-selling book), the board game has now evolved into a video game (quite a retro one at that), which ends up dragging four unassuming highschool teenagers from a detention room into the jungle itself. Think Breakfast Club meets tame Jurassic Park.
A second switcheroo comes in the form of the transformation the four teenagers undergo when they enter the game, essentially turning into polar-opposite avatars of themselves. Nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) turns into hulking Dr Smolder Bravestone (The Rock); girl nerd Martha (Morgan Turner) turns into Lara Croft-type Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) transforms into the diminutive zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), and self-obsessed blonde Bethany (Madison Iseman) becomes middle-aged and pot-bellied cartographer Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black).
The highlights of the movie are, of course, excellent performances by The Rock and Black. Watching The Rock be amazed by his own body is an act that is as endearing as it is laugh-out-loud funny. But full marks go to Black for channelling his inner teenage diva: strutting on the balls of his feet, flicking his imaginary hair with wild abandon, biting his teeth in full vamp mode… the man is a gift to hysterical comedy. Hart and Gillan turn in acceptable performances, but Hart’s screechiness can get tiresome after a while.
Rhys Darby (of Flight of the Conchords fame) makes a delightful cameo appearance as an NPC (non-player character for the noobs). And so does Nick Jonas in an extended appearance that turns out to be surprisingly engaging.
Emotional platitudes come aplenty towards the tail end of the movie, but the cringe-value is more or less negated by the humour and light touch with which the actors cushion them. The action and CG elements are forgettable, but video game references peppered through the film hit the mark.
While the film may not punch you in the gut the way Williams’ Jumanji did, the sequel offers much in the way of laughs and shallow entertainment. So, if you’re looking to indulge in any nostalgia, a repeat watch of the original film is your best bet. If not, enjoy the show and happy holidays.