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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURESFrom left: Nick Jonas, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, “Jumanji: The Next Level.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURESFrom left: Nick Jonas, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Movie Review: ‘Jumanji’: Fun run

Friday, January 3, 2020 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Some movies are lifted by low expectations.

Having seen a movie where you’re not expecting much, you sometimes end up with higher results.

That’s what happened for me with “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Once one gets past the illogical legerdemain of the movie’s premise, which I won’t geek out on here, “Jumanji” provides an entertaining, frequently humorous and often wild ride.

Having not played “The Jumanji Classic Board Game” or “The Jumanji Video Game” (I don’t play videogames. I spend enough time in my full-time job as a journalist in front of a computer or mobile device screen.) nor having read the 1981 novel, “Jumanji,” by Chris Van Allsburg (author, “The Polar Express”), I am admittedly unfamiliar with the “Jumanji” game and at somewhat of a disadvantage to fully understand the movie.

Then, again, a movie should be evaluated on its own terms, regardless of what it’s based on, be that a board game, videogame, children’s book, classic novel or Shakespeare play.

While “Jumanji: The Next Level” is technically a sequel to “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017), the first theatrical movie “Jumanji” (1995) starred Robin Williams. There was also a spinoff, “Zathura: A Space Adventure” (2005).

The screenplay for “Jumanji: The Next Level” is quippy fun. The lead actors are great. The lead characters they play have believable and deep friendships.

Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse) has an exceptional screen presence as an action hero.

Dwayne Johnson (Dr. Smolder Bravestone) is terrific in his usual strong presence with a hint of mirth (that raised right eyebrow).

Jack Black (Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon) strikes the right pose for superb unctuous silliness.

Kevin Hart (Franklin “Mouse” Finbar) is hilarious in his slow burns and faux umbrage facial reactions.

Johnson and Hart have an amusing onscreen chemistry. They could be the new Hope and Crosby of 21st century Hollywood.

Awkwafina (Ming Fleetfoot) gives the film a boost when she appears, as does Nick Jonas (Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough).

In supporting roles are Danny DeVito (Edward “Eddie” Gilpin), Danny Glover (Milo Walker), Bebe Neuwirth (Nora Shepherd), Colin Hanks (Alex Vreeke), Alex Wolff (Spencer Gilpin) and a posse of actors playing scary-looking Vikings.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is marred when director Jake Kasdan (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” 2017; “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” 2007) and screenwriters (Kasdan; Jeff Pinkner, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” 2014, and Scott Rosenberg, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “Gone In 60 Seconds,” 2000, “High Fidelity,” 2000; ”Con Air,” 1997) attempt to explain the characters and their avatars, their comings and goings, disappearances and reappearances, and the concept behind the game.

All that aside, basically, “Jumanji: The Next Level” is a body-switching film, a genre that includes contemporary examples “Big” (1988), “All Of Me” (1984) and “Heaven Can Wait” (1978) and goes back at least to “Turnabout” (1940).

None of the characters die in “Jumanji: The Next Level.” Rather, they disintegrate into particles of ashes, an effect that is similar to what happens in some of the characters’ deaths in the final scenes of “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018). In “Jumanji: The Next Level,” each character, once atomized, soon reappears by zooming from out of the clouds to land back on the ground.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” has some great scenes, thanks to Director of Photography Gyula Pados (“The Maze Runner,” 2018, 2015), editing (Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich, Tara Timpone) and Computer Generated Imagery.

The movie is admittedly a mash-up of several movies and movie genres.

There’s a vehicle scramble (ala “Mad Max: Fury Road,” 2016), a walk across the desert (with a “Lawrence Of Arabia” opening note quote from the 1962 epic in the great soundtrack by composer Henry Jackman, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “Ralph Breaks The Internet,” 2018; “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” 2017; “Captain America: Civil War,” 2016), an Ostrich chase scene (“Jurassic Park,” 1993), a swing through the jungle (reprising somewhat “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”), a middle-eastern oasis town (“Casablanca,” 1942) where Johnson gets to display his fighting skills (right out of The Rock’s World Wrestling Entertainment domain), Finbar’s ability to communicate with animals (“Doctor Dolittle,:” 1967) and what seems to be the object of the movie and game, the retrieval of the jewel (“Romancing the Stone,” 1984).

One other quibble with the movie is that, though it’s rated PG-13, it could be enjoyed by pre-teens. Unfortunately, several of the movie’s characters needlessly use mild obscenity (G - D D - - n and s - - -).

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is aptly titled. It takes the “Jumanji” movie franchise to the next level of entertainment. It’s a fun run.

“Jumanji: The Next Level,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for adventure action, suggestive content and some language; Genre: Adventure, Comedy; Run tie: 2 hr., 2 min. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The Guns N’ Roses’ rock song, “Welcome To The Jungle” is heard during a scene in “Jumanji: The Next Level.” The film puts other songs, including Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In The Game,” to ironic good use. The end credits include “Jumanji” maps.

Box Office: Dec. 28 weekend box office results were unavailable because of the early Focus deadline for the New Year’s Day holiday.

Unreel, Jan. 3:

“The Grudge,” R: Nicolas Pesce directs Betty Gilpin, Andrea Riseborough, William Sadler and John Cho in the Horror Mystery. A ghost haunts a house and dooms all who enter it. Now that’s what I call a real fixer-upper.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes