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story.lead_photo.caption Bethany (Jack Black) and Martha (Karen Gillan) inhabit video game avatars quite unlike their real-life selves in Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: The Next Level.

For the most part, Jumanji: The Next Level plays less like a retread than an upgrade. Director and co-writer Jake Kasdan understands that computer-generated images can't carry a movie, even one that aims simply to entertain.

Much of what's fun about Kasdan's video-game-set updates to Jumanji is that he relies as much on his performers as he does on the special effects. Because the main characters Bravestone/Eddie (Dwayne Johnson), Bethany/Fridge (Jack Black), Mouse Finbar/Fridge (Kevin Hart) and Martha (Karen Gillan) are avatars for people who live outside the video game world, the actors who play them also get to mimic the performers who play the same characters outside the world of Jumanji.

Jumanji: The Next Level

85 Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Ashley Scott, Danny DeVito, Alex Wolff, Danny Glover, Nick Jonas, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Rory McCann, Rhys Darby

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rating: PG-13, for adventure action, suggestive content and some language

Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

In this case young Spencer (Alex Wolff) and his Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) get sucked into the game. The college freshman is feeling lonely and powerless and hopes playing Bravestone will make him feel less depressed.

Instead, Eddie gets unwittingly transported into the game, so now he has The Rock's muscles and good looks but no understanding of how video games work. Johnson has a ball channeling DeVito's New Jersey drawl. He may not be putting Rich Little out of work but having to play more than one character inhabiting his physique keeps Johnson and the rest of cast as well as the audience from getting bored.

Grandpa also has a former business partner named Milo (Danny Glover), whom he can't forgive because he shut down their beloved restaurant while Eddie still wanted to keep working. Saving the kingdom takes a back seat to the old feud. Mouse is full of useful facts that can help win the game, but Milo's verbosity makes finding that information more difficult.

The quartet must retrieve a glowing jewel from the justly named warlord Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann). He's so vicious that he uses giant hyenas to go after his enemies. Mere wolves aren't lethal enough.

The new adventure takes the crew to a delightfully wide range of locales. Jungles, deserts and mountains figure into the mission, and there are some new avatars who are worthy additions to the current cast. Awkwafina plays Ming, a cat burglar. Because she's an avatar for Spencer, Ming gets unexpectedly guilt-ridden when larceny is needed to win the game.

The computer-generated creatures are amusingly menacing. Not many films include bloodthirsty hippos or ostriches that behave more like piranhas. Curiously, the human villain in this installment is a tad disappointing. Jurgen is sort of blandly mean and doesn't leave as much of an impression as his hyenas do.

Curiously, the new film keeps from becoming moldy by exploring aging and mortality. Because he's recovering from hip surgery, Eddie is understandably elated to trade his current physique for Johnson's. In addition to locating the stone that can make life in the game world more pleasant, Eddie and Milo have to learn how to live in the present reality as well as the game.

Part of the reason Jumanji: The Next Level and Wreck-It Ralph work while movies based directly on video games usually don't is because character moments like these are more gratifying to watch than simply watching the action of a game replicated on the big screen. It's more fun to clobber bad guys or pull off impossible stunts for oneself instead of watching someone else do it. This small addition helps prevent viewers from longing for the words "game over" during the film.

MovieStyle on 12/13/2019

Print Headline: Jumanji: The Next Level

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