Saturday, December 14, 2019


These new Jumanji movies Jake Kasdan (of Walk Hard fame) is doing are big frictionless machines of weightless frivolity. They’re adventure films without stakes. They have character based comedy swanning about in broad burlesque stereotypes. They have violence without danger, eccentricities without personality, sex appeal without sex. They’re basically meaningless, and I can hardly retain details of them. And yet they’re something like fun in the moment, and I think of them only fondly. That they happen to be hugely appealing nothings strikes me as a matter of their throwback appeal to a time where a blockbuster can be premised simply on the hook of a high concept and the promise of Movie Star personas on brightest display. The first one — oh-so-loosely inspired by a slim picture book, and the Robin Williams movie of the same name about a jungle board game come to life — took a bunch of teens and yanked them into a jungle adventure video game they had to win to leave. It took obvious delight in seeing The Rock and Kevin Hart and Jack Black and Karen Gillan playing up insecurities of their inner teen players while expressing bewildered curiosity at their adult avatars’ caricature aspects. The Rock is shocked he’s strong, Hart he’s short, Black he’s fat, Gillan she’s midriff-bared male gaze fantasy, and so on. The Next Level does it one better, in the now old fashioned tradition of a sequel just redoing its predecessor with slight twists here and there. This one adds new characters and scrambles the avatars, so even though we’re once more tromping through moderately clever CG action sequences that vaguely comment on the samey repetitions of video games — rope bridge races! dune buggy chases! mountain fortress sneaking! — the personalities are funny and fresh. Now The Rock is impersonating a cranky grandpa played by Danny DeVito by scrunching his face and shouting, and Hart is a charmingly befuddled Danny Glover by lowering his voice and slowing it to just south of molasses. They’re continual delights, surprising and amusing. (And that Black plays the black teen and somehow never irredeemably crosses a line counts as a small Hollywood miracle.) It’s fun! The action is free of sense, while adhering to strict formula. The body swap silliness and jokey quips come frequently enough to keep the laughs coming and the slapstick, though still oddly underutilized for the premise, works just fine. And then where I found the movie oddly half-moving is in its earnest play with identity, a causal, inclusive, warm-hearted fluidity that makes something charmingly sweet out of The Rock looking with grandfatherly love at Awkwafina and calling her "grandson."

No comments:

Post a Comment