Welcome to “The Breakfast Club” goes “Big,” and gets trapped in Oz, also known as “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”
It’s a long, violent and jokey reboot of “Jumanji” re-set as a body-switch comedy, with teenagers stuck in a video game as avatars almost wholly unlike their “real” selves.
Right away you can see the advantages of this high concept commodity. You get to re-cast the teens, a quartet forced to do punishment duty cleaning out a high school storage room where they stumble onto and then are sucked into this antique (Late ’80s, early 90s?) video game.
So the lovelorn nerd (Alex Wolff) morphs into a game avatar hero, played by Dwayne Johnson, his towering jock ex-pal, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is reduced to Kevin Hart “sidekick” status (“Where’s the REST of me?”), the sneering, unpopular smart girl (Morgan Turner) is transformed into a Lara Croft (Karen Gillan) bombshell (“Who dresses like this? In the JUNGLE?”) and the vapid, self-absorbed pretty girl (Madison Iseman) becomes the cowardly, “middle-aged” cartographer who looks like Jack Black.
“Where’s my PHONE?”
They’re stuck in a jungle-scape, with character “strengths” and “weaknesses” established, clues given in rhymes and game levels to be reached on a quest to break a “curse” involving a magical stone, fending off wild animals, a villain (Bobby Cannavale) and his motorcycle-riding minions, all just to “get back home” and back to their real selves.
It’s obvious, right on the surface, how that could work. The skinny boy transformed into The Rock, dazzled by his new muscle (listen for the little squeal of delight Johnson lets out upon checking out his pecs) but still a cowardly shrimp at heart, the emerging bully suddenly diminished to Hart’s perpetual “angry little man,” the beauty horrified at disappearing into Jack Black and in need of her first potty-break with a penis (“How do we DO this?”) and the smart wallflower suddenly possessing feminine wiles (Black’s “Bethany” gives her flirting lessons, hilariously).
But the shortcomings of this re-setting are just as plain. Dragging the supernatural terrors of a game into our everyday world is inherently a lot more interesting than hurling a bunch of grown up movie stars (and a scantily-clad starlet) into the game.
“Jumanji” is memorable for the kids trapped playing it overwhelmed when they unleash a tidal wave of monkeys on a house, or a stampede of rhinos on their town streets. Ground-breaking “real” effects let the digital rhinos crush real cars, destroy real houses.
“Welcome to the Jungle” has new and improved digital hippos, rhinos and jaguars, doing what they do in the jungle, but still obviously digital, with no “reality” reference point.
A quartet of screenwriters find a few funny things for Hart to say and Johnson and Gillan to act out. Black gets in touch with his feminine side. And there are a couple of nice “moments” thanks to character arcs that are Yellow Brick Road obvious — loner has to work with a team, narcissist has to learn to sacrifice, smart kid has to become brave and jock has to use his brain.
But the whole affair feels corporate, cooked-up-by-committee, surprising and entertaining only to tweens craving video game violence popped on the big screen and the titillation of a live-action bare-midriff/short-shorts heroine instead of the animated version “Tomb Raider” gives them.
By the time a Jonas Brother shows up, most of us will have checked out and started checking our text messages.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff
Credits:Directed by Jake Kasdan script by Chris McKenna, Eric Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner . A Sony/Columbia release.
Running time: 1:59