ST. LOUIS — Sequels don't have to reinvent the cinematic wheel. Basically, they all don't have to be "The Dark Knight."
The idea is simple. Just ease the pain of everyday life by providing a couple hours of escapism and it's all good, man. Sometimes, they are merely adequate without being memorable. "Jumanji: The Next Level" is one of those made-to-order sequels that feels like the smashed-in double cheeseburger you get from a drive-through fast food restaurant. You'll eat and digest it, but not think fondly of it tomorrow.
The second sequel following the Robin Williams' hit film and 2017 hit follow-up returns Jake Kasdan to the co-writer-director's chair, and also sees the return of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black to the story of a group of teenagers who play the wrong board game and get caught up in crazy adventures.
Alex Wolff and Morgan Turner head up the younger cast members, while Danny DeVito and Danny Glover join the crew as old timers sucked into the game in mysterious and sometimes funny ways. By now, you've seen the trailer where The Rock talks like DeVito and Hart adapts the voice of Glover. Once the teens drop into the world of Jumanji, they are grown adults. Unlike the last sequel, they have different bodies with a different vocie attached.
The effect works for about a half-hour before wearing on your patient soul. Hearing Johnson ask, "is this Florida" is humorous enough, as is Hart describing his new body as a muscle-bound boy scout. Black taps into his usual emo valve and generates some energy.
The problem is it all becomes redundant, recycled, and tired after an hour. The film is a long two hours. This is the kind of film where you feel the weight of the running time, the pace not doing enough to make the experience garner a smooth flow. An adventure film like this should have a better pace or be shorter all together.
The group gets into wild debacles and situations, sometimes attracting the help of Nick Jonas' helicopter pilot hero to help save the day. While Jonas was phenomenal in the DirecTV series, "Kingdom," an unintentional chuckle does fly out of the mouth when he shows up looking like Indiana Jones if he shopped at Old Navy.
The rest of the film isn't too hard to predict. You won't have to strain your brain to figure out if the heroes make it home in time for supper. It's all just digestible instead of being truly entertaining and memorable.
The hype around the film included DeVito and Johnson doing a lot of press together. They even crashed a wedding and serenaded the bride and groom. They had a real energy about them, which is unfortunately lost here due to the fact that the two don't get real screen time together. A better sequel would have found a way to get these two funny guys in some scenes together. That's a real loss that could have heightened the fun here.
Johnson is charismatic enough to make just about anything worth watching, but there's simply not enough here to make it all stand out. The cast tries hard, but fumbles over the repetitive material. A sequel requires some freshness or movement forward, and there's nothing here. Don't let the "they find out the world of Jumanji is even more dangerous" tactic work on you. It's old and overused.
Look, if you liked the last sequel, this one will go down just fine. In a good mood, you may even laugh a few times and drive home happy. Otherwise, you're best left waiting for the DVD to come out. Somehow, a couch and a fifth of the cost won't hurt as bad when the film underwhelms, which "Jumanji: The Next Level" ultimately does.
A sequel doesn't have to blow your mind, but it definitely shouldn't bore you either.
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