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Virtual Adventures

Saturday, December 30, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and others
Rating: * * 1/2

Chris Van Allsburg's 1981 children's book Jumanji has already been adapted to the screen in 1995, with Robin Williams herding kids who got sucked into a board game, from which they can escape only if they finish it. It was crazy, adventurous fun.

The upgrade by Jake Kasdan turns the board into a video game, so that the four teens that get pulled into it can become their adult avatars with special strengths and weaknesses (one of them explodes when he eats cake, another is a dance fighter!). They remain teens at heart though and retain their own characteristics, which can be comical when Jack Black is the avatar of a narcissistic teenage girl.

In a prologue set in 1996, a teenager turns on the game and is transported into it. Cut to the present when class nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), his buddy Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), the dumb blonde Bethany (Madison Iseman) and the loner Martha (Morgan Turner) are punished for various infractions with detention. While cleaning the place they find the old video game and when they plug it in, they find themselves in a jungle and in the adult bodies of the game characters they selected.

Each one chooses a virtual avatar quite different from him or herself, so skinny Spencer becomes the muscle-bound expedition leader, Dr Bravestone; the massive football player Fridge becomes the short zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), sedentary Martha becomes the fighter Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan in absurd Lara Croft outfit and Bethany turns into Jack Black's chubby Professor Shelly Oberon.

 They are supposed to find a jewel stolen from a giant statue’s eye socket by the villain (Bobby Cannavale) and list the curse on Jumanji if they have to return to their own world.  Which means they have to finish the game for which they are given three ‘lives’ or like the missing kid (Nick Jonas) from 1996—who they eventually run into-- they will be trapped in the game forever.

The foursome then proceed over the various levels of the game, that include being eaten by a hippo, chased by wild animals and other such perils. In between they even stop for some self-discovery and romance. Jack Black as Bethany get all the best lines, while Dwyane Johnson gets to ‘smoulder.  A few thrills and some chuckles are scattered along the ride.

While the older film appealed to a grown-up audience, this one’s strictly for teenagers or younger.

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