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‘Jumanji’ makes a surprisingly fun return in ‘Welcome to the Jungle’

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The adventurers face their latest danger in Jumanji.
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Three stars

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated PG-13. Now playing citywide.

It would probably be a stretch to call 1995’s Jumanji “beloved,” but for a certain generation of kids, it was always around, which gives it the perfect level of brand awareness for a Hollywood remake. Thankfully, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle boasts a fresh take on the central premise (a jungle-adventure board game that comes to life), some surprisingly sharp writing and a talented, enthusiastic cast with genuine chemistry.

In this quasi-sequel, players are forcibly pulled into the world of Jumanji, which is now an old-school video game. The four teenagers who stumble upon the game have to navigate the treacherous jungle while trapped in the bodies of their video-game avatars: Nerdy Spencer is now a buff action hero (Dwayne Johnson); jock Fridge is now a diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart); shy Martha is now a martial-arts badass (Karen Gillan); and popular girl Bethany is now a paunchy male professor (Jack Black).

The filmmakers get a lot of comedic mileage out of the contrast between the characters’ personalities and their new physical appearances, and the story plays out like an action-fantasy Breakfast Club. With its sometimes questionable risqué humor, Jungle is less kid-friendly than its predecessor, and it gets too bogged down in blockbuster set pieces toward the end. But it also proves that there’s no reason a movie that exists primarily to refresh a studio’s intellectual property can’t still be fun to watch.

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