Movie Review: A step to down to “Jumanji: The Next Level”

 

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The air of “played” hangs over “Jumanji: The Next Level,” a sequel that flails and flogs the premise that made “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” so funny, to death.

It’s not the folks stuck inside a video game idea that makes these fly. It’s Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black, as video game avatars doing comic impersonations of teens sucked into that game that works.

So let’s take that idea and double down on it, add impersonations and impersonators, have the impersonators change their impersonations. Once the writers and director Jake Kasdan settled on that, they seem to have clapped their hands together with an “Our work is done, here,” and hoped for the best.

Because even by video game logic/physics and “story” standards, this “Jumanji” is nonsensical and dull. And heartless, to boot.

We’ve got to get the kids — Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain and Madison Iseman — BACK into the game that they smashed at the end of the first film, because who’d want to go through THAT again? The first of the film’s many lazy leaps is here.

Spencer (Wolff) has some contrived beef with the other three, especially Martha (Turner). Holiday depression? Painful breakup? He decides that fixing that busted game in his basement so he can turn into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Dr. Bravestone again will cure his Blue Christmas. The others chase him into Jumanji to bring him back.

Only this time, the game sucks in Spencer’s arthritic, CPAP machine-breathing grandpa (Danny DeVito) and grandpa’s folksy, long-winded ex-business partner (Danny Glover), and THEY move into the bodies of game avatars played by Johnson and Hart.

Yes, they’re chased by ostriches and mandrills (ferocious apes). Bravestone knocks bad guys around and a Viking biker villain (Rory McCann of “Game of Thrones,” a great big shrug) must be hunted down and separated from the game’s “Falcon Jewel” magical talisman.

Oh, they need to track down Spencer, in whatever guise he’s in.

The one-liners are few and far between, with the jock Fridge (Blain) grumbling ” I gotta stop hangin’ out with white people!” being the stand-out.

That means this sequel comes down to performances. Even more than in the last film, it’s all about “Who’s the best at doing a funny version of another character in a body ill-suited to that voice?”

Even more than in the first film, Black does the heavy lifting here. He has his Bethany moments (as in “Welcome to the Jungle”). And he’s a drawling, irritable Fridge, griping about this broken down “fat guy” body he’s stuffed in, this time around.

Hart’s impersonation of Glover, slow of speech and “Shut the FRONT door” grandfatherly in his jokes, is almost as good. It takes old man Milo forever to get over the idea that he’s in a game in this “small muscular Boy Scout” body. His pedantic zoology speeches about ostriches and mandrills are of the “Get to the damned point, Grandpa” variety.

“Did I just kill Eddie…by talkin’…too slow?”

Johnson does his level best to suggest irritable Jersey Shore guy DeVito’s voice and pose, and the disconnect lands a few laughs. He and Hart feed off each other well, but he’s still looking for giggles goofing on his “smell what The Rock’s cookin'” persona.

Gillan’s “Tomb Raider” impersonator is far less interesting, unless you’re talking about her rock-hard abs.

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The picture peaks early and gets winded early and that’s when more stops are pulled out, more characters introduced or re-introduced. Avatars switch, and truthfully, none of that works or amounts to much fun.

Awkwafina? Wasted here.

It’s not hateful, the violence is cartoonish (with many video game “deaths”) and there’s just enough profanity to earn sniggers from tweens.

But “The Next Level” is a game too glitchy to stick with long enough to finish, so limited in appeal that it’d be under the tree Christmas Eve, consigned to a closet or basement storage by New Year’s.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Awkwafina, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito

Credits: Directed by Jake Kasdan, script by  Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkney and Scott Rosenberg, based on the Chris Van Allsburg novel. A Sony/Columbia release.

 

Running time: 2:02

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