First Hit: The interaction of the actors in this film make it work – I enjoyed it.
It is hard to miss the funny mark when you’ve got Jack Black (as Bethany), Kevin Hart (as Fridge) and Dwayne Johnson (as Spencer) together in a film. The wonderful part is that Karen Gillan (as Martha) held her own quite well with these three funny and larger than life guys.
A young Spencer (Alex Wolf) is nerdy and unsure of himself. As the film begins, he’s being taken advantage of by a young Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), who is a big strapping young man. Intimidating Spencer into doing his homework Fridge creates a friendship of convenience.Although Spence is somewhat resentful of being taken advantage of he does it anyway. After they get caught cheating, they are sent to detention.
Young Bethany (Madison Iseman) is the class popular beauty. She’s constantly on her phone and uses her contrived sexuality to get her way in school. She ignores a teacher’s request to put away her phone and gets sent to detention.
Young Martha (Morgan Turner) is a nerd and introverted. She hates PE and tells the teacher she won’t participate in the exercise class and gets detention.
This is the setup and together in detention they discover an old electronic version of Jumanji. Getting sucked into the game they end up in a jungle where they arrive as the opposite of who they are outside the game. Spencer (Johnson) is no longer an intimidated skinny nerd, he’s a big, strong assertive man. The big man on campus football player Fridge (Hart), has turned into a small wise cracking man. The beautiful Bethany (Black) turns into a short dumpy man. And the nerdy quiet Martha (Gillan) has turned into a beautiful, strong woman who is a martial arts expert.
Given this setup, a lot could go wrong if the situations and dialogue are weak or don’t allow the actors breathing room, however this is not the situation. It works: The situations and dialogue create scenes that are funny and allow the actors to interpret both their former younger selves while embodying their new older bodies and skills.
Johnson is fun to watch here because his ability to seem like his size and strength are new to him really works. His interactions with Hart are priceless. Hart does a great job of trying to make the others still believe he’s still the size of his younger self instead of his shorter self. The script makes good use of his innate talents of making wise cracks and barking out his intentions. Black is perfect. He makes you believe that he was once a beautiful young lady who is now trapped in a stubby man’s body. I enjoyed the scenes when he gave Martha lessons on how to seduce the men guarding the transportation building. Gillan was fantastic because, despite her beauty, she embodied the nerdy girl of her younger self. She was great as the martial arts expert, ready to kick some butt. Wolff, Blain, Iseman and Turner all did a wonderful job of being the younger characters. Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers did a nice job of creating a screenplay that enhanced the story and actors. Jake Kasdan elevated the story to something fun and engaging.
Overall: I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film.