Jumanji: The Next Level could be 'game over' for this fantasy franchise
Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan power up for the action-packed sequel Jumanji: The Next Level
DURING a rare heartfelt exchange in director Jake Kasdan's action-packed sequel to his fitfully entertaining 2017 rumble in the jungle, a teenage protagonist asks chums to forget about the digital realm of Jumanji.
"Can we agree, let's never go back there," he urges.
Regrettably, his cautionary words are roundly ignored by Kasdan and co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, who contrive a return to the booby-trap laden wilderness where digitally rendered creatures can quickly deplete the characters' three lives.
A frenetic set-piece incorporating a stampede of ostriches falls short of the vicarious thrill of similar chases in the Jurassic Park films while a topsy-turvy encounter with crazed mandrills disorients us almost as much as the cast.
Jumanji: The Next Level searches forlornly for a spot where lightning might strike twice but the plot and pacing are haphazard and the agreeably fractious double-act of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart loses its comic lustre on a second viewing.
Repeated body-swapping in a hare-brained second act tests the actors' versatility but the rewards for us are scant.
Contrary to the title, Kasdan's second chapter is a disappointing step backwards.
It has been two years since high school students Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Spencer (Alex Wolff) were sucked into a Jumanji video game cartridge and played as larger-than-life avatars to secure their return to the real world.
While Bethany, Fridge and Martha have subsequently embraced college life, Spencer feels disconnected in New York.
He returns to Brantford to spend time with his mother (Marin Hinkle) and crotchety grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito).
"It doesn't get any better than this," grumbles the cantankerous old coot. "It's all downhill from here."
Haunted by Eddie's gloomy summation, Spencer tinkers with the Jumanji cartridge and is magically transported back to the jungle.
Bethany encourages Fridge and Martha to rally to Spencer's aid.
"We played before and we won," she reminds her buddies.
Before the teenagers can select their familiar avatars, Eddie and estranged pal Milo (Danny Glover) are sucked into the game and adopt the guises of strapping archaeologist Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) and scaredy-cat zoologist Franklin Finbar (Hart) respectively.
Fridge awkwardly inhabits cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) while Martha revisits acrobatic warrior Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
Aided by a "small and crafty" avatar called Ming (Awkwafina), the discombobulated players must locate Spencer and Bethany then steal a priceless jewel to secure their freedom.
Jumanji: The Next Level plies the same brand of frenetic tomfoolery as its predecessor.
Johnson's innate charm is missing in action for almost the entire picture and the twin tornadoes of Black and Awkwafina blow themselves out on parallel quests for belly laughs.
A throwaway coda unapologetically tees up a special effects-heavy third instalment.
Let the sequel be game over, and out.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (12A, 123 mins) Action/Adventure/Comedy/Romance. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser'Darius Blain, Morgan Turner. Director: Jake Kasdan.