Dwayne Johnson multitasks in "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," a Sony Pictures release.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Hey, everybody. Real quick: In the real world, unlike video games, you only get one life, so be brave. Did you know that? No? Well, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has even more sub-Bareilles bon mots for you.

Now a more serious question: Who loves the original Jumanji? I mean truly, and not in the way that you miss Robin Williams as sorely as this sequel does? (Yes, it is a sequel.) The original boasts energy and enthusiasm, sure, but it’s always felt more like recognizable funny-name IP than a beloved classic off which to blow the dust for a new generation.

Whatever pulmonary power this property has now peters out at its premise: The inadvertent players of Jumanji — which morphs into a video game about jungle danger come to life because “who plays board games?” — are now avatars at wild odds with the real-world traits and shapes of the people inhabiting them.

Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) is an archaeologist with “smoldering intensity” because … well, I guess it’s right there in his name, isn’t it? But he’s controlled by a timid, nerdy gamer named Spencer. Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart) is a zoologist with a complex about being short because he’s actually a tall teenager named Fridge and that’s all Kevin Hart knows how to play in film. Yes, Jumanji is essentially a stealth sequel to Central Intelligence, and monumentally less inventive. It’s OK. Dwayne Johnson will run for President soon.

Meanwhile, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) is a midriff-baring, man-killing commando … but Martha is a mousy malcontent secretly enamored of Spencer (as he is of her). “You’re a badass!,” her cohorts yell after she seductively dance-fights her way past some henchmen. This is, of course, after she has already knocked a man off a moving motorcycle with a running kick. But no, the most important thing Martha learns is to flirtatiously flaunt it. And when someone who knows her real name thanks her for saving his life, does he call her Martha? Nope. Ruby. Lame. At least Gillan and Johnson share a sweet moment of awkward chemistry.

Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black, masterfully imitating irritated vocal fry for what it’s worth) is not the “curvy genius” in cartography, cryptography, archaeology and paleontology that Instagram star Bethany believes him to be when choosing the character. Because Shelly is short for Sheldon. And Sheldon is curvy because he’s fat. Get it? Unlike Bethany, Shelly also has a penis. If you like jokes about unexpectedly acquiring a penis, the size of a penis and the sensation of urinating from a penis, well … happy holidays.

Together, they must restore order to Jumani and retrieve the Jaguar’s Eye, some generically important glowing jewel stolen by Bobby Cannavale — whom I hope enjoyed the paycheck for his credible Billy Zane impersonation. Bobby Zane, Level Boss, has some sort of power to control the animals of Jumanji. This seems like the sort of advantage that could wipe out the heroes in one easy swoop, but … whatever.

It will surprise no one that the filmmaker behind the adrenalized thrill rides of Sex Tape and Bad Teacher lacks action chops. But Jake Kasdan’s directorial hand seems pointed solely at the visual effects crew, as this is computer-abetted nonsense at its least thrilling.

At some point, the foursome teams up with Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, whom you may have guessed to be a pilot. But “Seaplane” is timid, as he’s down to his last life (each character only gets three) and he’d rather lay low.

You see, Jefferson has been trapped inside Jumanji for 20 years. That’s right. If you weren’t already suspicious about this whole Jumanji redux, well … Nick Jonas inheriting Robin Williams’ role in the narrative may not sell you. Of course because Jefferson is an avatar, he hasn’t aged a day, so you can gaze upon that well-chiseled blankness for a couple of hours if it’s your thing. Yes, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is but a minute shy of two hours. Because of course it is.

If you feel somehow betrayed by this review – or feel it somehow spoils or sullies the good time you think you’ll have – may you honestly and sincerely enjoy the plethora of penis jokes.

An award-winning film critic and features reporter, Nick has professionally written or gabbed about movies for Illinois newspapers, national syndicates, Playboy, The Art Immortal, The Film Yap and Midwest radio stations. He once drummed in a Billy Joel cover band known as Silly Joel and freely presents his Letterboxd page to engage and mock if you wish: https://letterboxd.com/ragekage79/

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