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December 19, 2017

'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' is an exciting revamp of an old classic

The film opened in theaters today

"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" is a movie that actually surprises you with how fun and exciting it is.

I mean, come on, this movie had a lot of strikes against it. It is produced by Sony, who have seen one reboots and would-be franchises crash and burn the past decade, for one. It's also opening a mere five days after "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

However, the main obstacle was that it is based on a solid – but not spectacular – 1995 hit film (which was based on a 1981 book). It was dominated by the late Robin Williams as a man trapped for decades in a board game who is then released by children who unleash dangers that will only end when they play the game.

So, without Williams, who could possibly make this film fun, or even interesting? Enter Franchise Viagra himself, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But this time, he has plenty of help.

First, the film makes the wise decision to eschew the board game, Jumanji, from the Williams film and goes with a video-game version. Next, we get the umpteenth try to emulate "The Breakfast Club" by having nervous nerd Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), cheerleader, "prettiest girl in school" and all-around narcissist Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), jock Anthony "Fridge" Johnson (Ser' Darius Blain) and shy bookworm Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) all attending detention together for infractions reflecting their personality.

They find a video game called "Jumanji" during detention, start playing – and soon, they all find themselves into the video game world of Jumanji – playing as the characters they chose.

Johnson plays Spencer's avatar, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, an archaeologist and explorer who has no weaknesses. Jack Black, in a hilarious twist that is played for belly laughs, is Bethany's avatar, Professor Shelson "Shelly" Oberon, a cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and explorer.

Meanwhile, Karen Gillan portrays Martha's avatar, Ruby Roundhouse, a commando and dance fighter, while Kevin Hart brings Fridge's avatar, Franklin "Moose"Finbar, a short zoologist and weapons expert. 

• This movie quickly combines a group version of "Big," with each "adult" character giving voice to the insecurities of the teen inside – whether it be the suddenly two-feet-shorter "Fridge," Martha being apprehensive about her appearance even though she is now in the smoking hot body of Roundhouse, Bethany reacting to now being a man or Spencer now nervous about, well, everything, despite being a buff and all-powerful hero in Bravestone.

• The chemistry between these four is obvious right off the bat. They play along with and interact with each other to full effect and the dialogue is extremely funny.

• Hart definitely brings his A-game and gets just the right amount of screen time. Gillan, whose character is self-aware of her "action girl" stereotypes she manifests, plays Roundhouse as both sultry and sassy – and kicks butt in the action scenes, which are first rate. Black has a blast showing his feminine side and "the Rock" – well, this kind of action and comedy is right in his wheelhouse.

• With great effects, some romantic tension, kids playing idealized adults, a sharp script with loads of humor, this film seems to have it all.

• It even has a sense of urgency, as each character gets three lives. This provides us with some hilarious "death" scenes, but also allows the tension to build as some characters find themselves in danger of using their third and last life – and dying, for real.

• If this were based on a real video game, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" would be the best video game movie of all time.

• Since it's not, it will have to settle for being one of the most entertaining films of the year – and a special gift to theater-goers this holiday season. Get a piece – or at least peek – of this latest offering from "The Rock."