Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2017. Columbia Pictures, Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment. Story by Chris McKenna, Screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, based on the film Jumanji, story by Greg Taylor, Jim Strain, Chris Van Allsburg, screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, Jim Strain, and the book Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg. Cinematography by Gyulla Pados. Produced by William Teitler, Matt Tolmach. Music by Henry Jackman. Production Design by Owen Paterson. Costume Design by Laura Jean Shannon. Film Editing by Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich.
Four teenagers are sent to detention for their various misdeeds, forced into each other’s company for the first time and contrary to the principles of the social cliques that have previously kept them apart. While cleaning out an abandoned room filled with junk, they happen upon an old video game that they decide to fool around with, but turning it on actually gets them sucked into the cartridge (the film’s simple but thorough set-up is its first chief delight). Now stuck inside the video game and represented by avatars of various identities, this awkward foursome will be forced to find their way out of a dangerous, animal-infested jungle if they ever want to join real life again. Nerdy Alex Wolff has been turned into hunky, heroic Dwayne Johnson, football star Ser’Darius Blain is now compact sidekick Kevin Hart, antisocial Morgan Turner is now Lara Croft-esque Karen Gillan and, most hilarious, stuck-up prom queen Madison Iseman has been turned into pith-helmeted explorer Jack Black. They have to complete the game’s objectives before their three game player lives are up, helped along by their characters’ various personal skills as well the appearance of another human player (portrayed by winsome Nick Jonas) who has been in the game for a disturbing length of time. The opportunities for humour are plentiful and well taken advantage of by a cast of actors who appear to be having a great time and generously share their pleasure with the audience, while the clever script, vastly improving on the anemic 1995 adventure starring Robin Williams, provides the right level of twists and stakes to match the jokes for a colourful and memorable ride. The message at the heart of the story, about people learning to get along by being forced to look beyond the surface, is placed with delicacy and intelligence at the centre of a unapologetic crowd-pleaser, never overdoing its emotional content but not treating it lightly either.