Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle movie review: Hilarious Jack Black has animal attraction
In 1995, a frantic little picture called Jumanji was released starring Robin Williams as a man who gets trapped inside a jungle-themed board game. The critics were dismissive, but it made a tidy sum of money: there was a TV spin-off, a feeble-minded sequel, and that, one would have thought, was that. Not these days, when any old half-baked story with a semblance of audience recognition is preferable to the financial risk involved in backing an original idea.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is not a sequel, but a sort of remake, substituting a 1990s-era video game for the board game, but otherwise adhering to the same basic principles. Nerdy teen Spencer Gilpin (Alex Woolf) is sent to detention by his high school principal when he's caught ghosting history essays for hulking football star Anthony 'Fridge' Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain), who also gets benched.
Joining them in an old storage room are Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner), a shy, bookish girl who has refused to participate in gym, and Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), the prettiest girl in the school, who's obsessed with selfies and social media. When Spencer discovers an old computer console containing a game called Jumanji, he plugs it in and they decide to play it.
But when they all choose characters, they're sucked into a frighteningly real jungle populated by dangerous animals and a baddie. They all now have avatars: Spencer is Dr Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a giant, square-jawed archaeologist; the Fridge is Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short and chippy zoologist; Martha is Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a gorgeous martial arts expert; and Bethany, for her sins, is Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), a portly middle-aged man.
They all have three lives, but if they don't find a legendary gem called the Jaguar's Eye, they'll never get out of the game at all. The premise is daft as a brush, but for the most part, writer/director Jake Kasdan and his winning ensemble cast make it work. Dwayne Johnson is a dab hand at comedy, Kevin Hart is funnier than usual and Karen Gillan is great fun playing a geeky girl who finds it hard to get used to being beautiful. Best of all, though, is Jack Black, whom I could watch pretending to be a pampered teenage prom queen till the cows come home.