There was always something weird about “Jumanji,” the 1995 special-effects adventure. So a kid gets sucked into the virtual world of the game and spends decades there, re-emerging as a lonely middle-aged Robin Williams? Weird.
This creepy premise is re-visited in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” an otherwise entertaining holiday release. Once again, we’ve got an innocuous-looking game that zaps unsuspecting players into a peril-filled jungle realm.
There’s a pretty good twist: The four teens who find the game at their high school emerge in the jungle in the form of avatars, who bear little resemblance to their real-life selves.
In a couple of cases, this works out well for the players. The school nerd is transformed into a muscle-bound hero named Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), and a timid girl becomes the fearless Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). “Why am I wearing this in a jungle?” Ruby asks, when she realizes she’s clad in Laura Croft-style midriff-baring togs.
Meanwhile, a towering teen jock is rendered as the vertically challenged Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), and the vain homecoming queen is reborn as the portly, bearded professor, Shelly Oberon (Jack Black).
Even without the computer-generated giant hippos or “Mad Max”-attired bikers attacking our heroes, this “Jumanji” would stand a good chance of succeeding just based on that cast. Johnson is in his usual self-parodying mode, and he banters well with the perpetually adrenalized Hart.
Gillan, a piece of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” universe, uncorks some droll line readings even amid the other high-powered comedians. But Jack Black takes top honors, channeling a teen girl with a coquettish degree of precision.
This crew, eventually joined by boy-band survivor Nick Jonas, is just skillful enough to keep “Jumanji” perking along. Director Jake Kasdan (“Sex Tape”) appreciates the talents of the group, and he lets the one-liners pop where they should.
There’s also room for zany sidebars, like Kevin Hart riffing on what it’s like to be trampled by a herd of rhinos: “I’ve seen things …” (He survives because each player gets multiple lives in the game.)
The original “Jumanji” was trying to be a Steven Spielberg movie, two years after “Jurassic Park.” A couple of decades later, the Spielberg mode is very much back (witness the success of “Stranger Things”), this time with a blanket of nostalgia wrapped around it.
“Welcome to the Jungle” cheerfully gets into this nostalgia. It doesn’t always click, but when it does, the escapism is practically Jurassic.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2 1/2 stars)
Teens get sucked into a virtual-reality game, emerging as unlikely avatars in this update of the 1995 Robin Williams film. This adventure film creates escapist fun when it clicks, which it frequently does thanks to a cast having fun: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and especially Jack Black.
Rating: PG-13, for violence, subject matter
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall