Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Sarah Posted by Sarah at December 22, 2017 15:12:56 December 22, 2017 15:12:56

The lasting impression of the comedy Central Intelligence is that Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson are a terrific screen duo. They must have known that, too, because just eighteen months later, they’ve reunited for the Jumanji sequel/reboot, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. They wasted no time in finding another project to do together. And like Central Intelligence, the comedic chemistry of Hart and Johnson is the main justification for Jumanji Redux to exist. But, unsurprisingly if you remember Tropic Thunder, they are not the best thing in Jumanji. No, that would be Jack Black, who walks away with the movie without breaking a sweat.

Jack Black’s most effective mode is as a comedic sidekick. He broke out playing a comedic sidekick in High Fidelity, and still to this day one of his best performances is in Tropic Thunder, which he also steals from big name stars. In the right circumstances, Jack Black is a killer, and Jumanji is the right circumstance. The movie is loosely a sequel to the original Robin Williams movie, in that it takes place in the same world, but there are no connecting events between the two movies. Jumanji has (smartly) decided to be an Indiana Jones-style episodic franchise, and not go the serialized route so popular with cinematic universes. So you don’t need to know OG Jumanji to get with the sequel, but you do need to have a tolerance for Jack Black because he’s in it a lot and again, he is the best part. 

The movie starts with a prequel in 1996 that shows us the Jumanji board game from the original movie morphing into a more alluring video game console when a Nineties teen is not enticed by a board game. That kid then gets sucked into the video game, and we jump ahead twenty years to a high school in the same town, where a group of kids get sucked into the game, too, after booting it up during detention. The kids are just archetypes—Nerd, Jock, Popular Girl, Nerd Girl—and it’s a good thing Jumanji skips out on them as fast as possible, because between It and Stranger Things we’ve seen some great young ensembles this year and the Jumanji crew is not a great young ensemble. (Also, there is some surprisingly shoddy work in this big budget studio movie. You can see a crew dude hiding behind a tree in an early action scene, and Karen Gillan does an entire scene with a nose shadow so intense it looks like she has a nosebleed.)

Once they’re in the game, the kids take on their chosen game personas, and the adults take over. Hart and Johnson play Jock and Nerd, respectively, and they are delightful together. Johnson, especially, is clearly having fun playing a nerd. They get to play on the childhood rift between Jock and Nerd, thought the plot point gets abandoned halfway through the movie, but for a second you can see how much more Hart and Johnson could do together if given a chance. And Johnson and Gillan, as Nerd Girl, have the right kind of chemistry to effectively play awkward teen dorks feeling out their first crush. But then Nick Jonas shows up late in the movie and kind of kills the vibe. It’s not like Great Acting is happening here, but he cannot keep up with the others and he practically repels funny, which does not work in a comedy.

Fortunately for Jonas, his character pairs off with Jack Black, which means he at least gets to stand in the vicinity of where funny is happening. Black plays the game incarnation of Popular Girl, and he throws himself into it with total commitment. He gets almost all the good lines, and the only thing that resembles a character arc in the movie. No longer able to rely on her beauty or her phone, Popular Girl discovers her worth beyond what others think of her, and in a nice touch, Popular Girl and Nerd Girl immediately become friends and spend the whole movie supporting each other. The funniest scene in the entire movie belongs to Black and Gillan.

Jumanji’s adult cast is tremendously likeable, and it coasts on cast chemistry as a mildly pleasant diversion. It isn’t bad, it’s just so broad it spans three states, and that kind of humor is just, well, you’re not going to offend anyone but you’re not going for the good jokes, either. It’s kinda-sorta okay, a mostly harmless movie that will probably play best to kids. People will enjoy Jumanji, no one will remember it, unless it’s for Jack Black.

Apega/ Adriana M. Barraza/ Nicky Nelson/ WENN

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