• by Wes Singleton

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, B

Rated PG-13, 119 minutes

Thrills and laughs abound in the familiar but fun new action adventure film, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle." A standalone sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams hit, it actually has a nice balance of adventure and heartwarming messages, much more than you might think.

Four high school kids (Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser'Darius Blain, and Morgan Turner) discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game's jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose (Dewayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan). What they discover is that you don't just play Jumanji - you must survive it. They're each given several lives, but it becomes a challenge as they must return a precious jewel to a statue, or a vicious explorer named Van Pelt (Emmy-winner Bobby Cannavale) will keep them stuck in the game forever.

The predictable yet entertaining "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" is filled with a charming energy that'll likely help turn it into a decent hit. It's directed by "Bad Teacher's" Jake Kasdan and is co-written by Kasdan, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner. Usually a team of writers can often spell trouble, and it occasionally shows in its busyness and desire to throw so much at its audience, but this time some of that works to its favor, and it isn't lacking in dullness.

This "Jumanji" is a sequel to the Robin Williams hit, his character is mentioned here and the film is dedicated to Williams' memory; though it has a busy plot and is overstuffed with special effects here and there, it benefits from an appealing cast that help carry it. Johnson and Hart, who've worked together before, have a nice chemistry together, and "Guardians of the Galaxy's" Gillian is a nice addition here too. There's also the most memorable of the cast, Black, who nearly steals the show as the pudgy map expert whose real person is a young teen girl.

Black is a comedic powerhouse, and he has two of the best scenes: when he discovers his penis for the first time, and when he must show Gillian how to flirt with some soldiers. Those two hilarious scenes are worth the price of admission, though there's much, much more, with loads of dangerous animals and situations the foursome must make it through to reach the end of the game. Watch for pop star Nick Jonas as someone else who's been stuck in the game much longer; Cannavale is a dark, brooding Van Pelt, while "Flight of the Conchords" Rhys Darby adds some levity as an important part of the game.

"Jumanji" also benefits from some touching messages about friendship, loyalty, acceptance and helping others in time of need, which is a good balance to many in this genre which attempt to drown out the story with special effects. There's still plenty here, and while the climax or the ending won't come as a surprise, it leaves it open for even more adventures.

"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" pulls few surprises and I'd hardly say it's anything truly substantive, but it keeps a nice balance of thrills, chills and some touching messages.

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