‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is Worth It Mostly for the Actor-Persona Swapping

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Rory McCann, Marin Hinkle

Director: Jake Kadan

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense CGI Animal Attacks

Release Date: December 13, 2019

Let’s be real: the biggest joy of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t the game itself, but how it was played. I’m talking about the actors who played the video game avatars and how the conceit demanded that they depart so far from their typical personas. Dwayne Johnson had to act like a scrawny kid with allergies, Kevin Hart got to wonder why he wasn’t a foot taller, Karen Gillan was allowed to question the wisdom of midriff-baring in action scenarios, and Jack Black fulfilled his destiny by getting to play a superficial teenage girl. So if The Next Level, the third movie in this series (although let’s be real: this feels like the second movie, since the actual first movie is so far removed from these latter two, though I’ll do my best to call it the third. Also, side note: there’s a cameo of someone from the original film, but I didn’t even remember that she was in the original, so take from that what you will) wants to succeed, it ought to double down on that performance-with-a-performance framework, right? Definitely, although there’s also a hullabaloo about a plot and some frenetic action set pieces.

The Next Level, naturally enough, is about the next level in the video game, so it’s a little harder now for the gamers to successfully complete their mission of saving Jumanji. For us, that means a lot of the film is like watching someone else playing a video game, which can be enjoyable, but it usually doesn’t deliver the transcendence that cinema is designed to achieve. Maybe some viewers will really dig all this flying through the air and slamming into the scenery, but for me, it feels like an exhausting visual onslaught. Although, I must admit that the CGI-rendered ostriches and mandrills do look genuinely scary.

But back to the main attraction, as it behooves me to mention that Dannys DeVito and Glover have joined the Jumanji gang, and they have major parts, even when we don’t get to see their familiar faces. Glover plays Milo, former business partner to DeVito’s Eddie, grandfather to Spencer (Alex Wolff), whose lingering insecurity about life in general has led him to venture back into the game. His friends follow behind to rescue him, but since everything is a little haywire, Milo and Eddie are dragged in as well, and nobody gets to choose their avatars, though they also get some opportunities to switch around who’s playing whom. In Welcome to the Jungle, the young actors were not too well-known, so the actors playing the video game characters were playing types more than they were doing impressions. But now with the presence of some more familiar names, the routine gets to lean more toward impressions, which Hart, Johnson, and newcomer Awkwafina take full advantage of. Honestly, in this day and age of strife and division, the world would be a lot better if we all spent some time pretending to be Danny DeVito. So, in that sense, The Next Level is a net good.

Jumanji: The Next Level is Recommended If You Like: Watching other people play video games, Danny DeVito impressions, Danny Glover impressions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Life Bars

Kevin Hart Doesn’t Know How the Internet Works

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After watching Kevin Hart’s appearance on Ellen on Friday, I’m not sure if he should host the Oscars, but I am sure about one thing: for someone who uses social media as prolifically as he does, he really doesn’t know how the Internet works. He is astounded by how much effort someone put in to dig up something he tweeted eight years ago. But if you know what tweet you’re looking for, it takes about five seconds to locate it. Hart seems to think it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but when you can ask your favorite digital assistant to find that needle for you, it’s not as difficult as it’s historically been.

I’ll be generous and give Kevin Hart the benefit of the doubt and believe that he really has changed and that he is sincerely sorry for his past homophobic remarks. His apologies have perhaps left something to be desired, but maybe he is having trouble expressing himself (otherwise-decent people often do when asked to atone for their mistakes). The trouble is that he is misunderstanding the context. He has framed himself the victim, thinking that trolls are out to ruin his career. But most of the coverage I’ve seen in response to him being offered the Oscar hosting gig has been LGBTQ people and their allies expressing concern, not vindictiveness. Hart may be frustrated that he is being asked to apologize for something he’s already apologized for, but there are probably people who never heard his original apology in the first place (or found it lacking).

Hart is encouraging people to move on, which is a good idea, so long as the correct lessons have been learned. It looks likely that Hart has decided for good not to host.He is worried that his presence will be a distraction, but there could’ve been (and still could be!) an opportunity for him to change the narrative. Don’t ignore the controversy: address it, and then move into a more celebratory, more inclusive direction. If Hart somehow changes his mind again, he could spend part of his opening monologue spotlighting notable queer films of the past year, invite up-and-coming queer filmmakers to be presenters, and donate part of the money he makes from the gig to LGBTQ-focused charities. Marginalized people could always use more allies and cheerleaders.

SNL Review December 16, 2017: Kevin Hart/Foo Fighters

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-kevin-hartfoo-fighters/

A Christmas Message From the White House – C

Kevin Hart’s Monologue – B-

Pandora – B

Office Phone Call (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Captain Shadow and the Cardinal – C+

Inside the NBA – C+

Foo Fighters perform “The Sky is a Neighborhood” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Guy Who Just Bought a Boat – C+

Nativity Play – C-

Christmas Party – C-

Active Jack – C+

Foo Fighters perform “Everlong”/”Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”/”Linus and Lucy” – B+


SNL Recap January 17, 2015: Kevin Hart/Sia

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SNL: Sia, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in January 2015.

The recurring sketch-lite Season 40 had its most original episode yet for the first show of 2015, with not a single repeat bit or character, save for Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber impression.  The best seasons tend to have a decent mix of recurring and original material, so while it is nice to see the “SNL” team coming up with plenty of fresh ideas, they might be wearing themselves too much.  Luckily, Kevin Hart was on hand to host for the second time, and there are not too many other comedians who can keep the energy level up like he can, and he did not disappoint in that department.  Meanwhile, Sia provided the music, and as is her m.o., she brought out some guest accompaniment while she kept her face covered.

Martin Luther King – This visit from a ghostly MLK was a clever idea for running down how decades of progress or lack thereof may not have been exactly what the civil rights leader envisioned.  Unfortunately, Kenan Thompson’s portrayal was not exactly as inspirational as the person he was playing.  It is hard to say if a different actor could have pulled this off much better, as the problems lay mainly in the writing.  This Dr. King, unlike the real deal, was not very imaginative about how the future might be different from his time.  He could have been any random black guy from the 60’s.  Pointing out how times have changed is usually good for a few solid chuckles, as this was, but it could have been more specific. B-


SNL Recap March 2, 2013: Kevin Hart/Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

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Cold Opening – Obama Press Conference
The Village People bit was killer.  I would have preferred it if it hadn’t been completely spelled out the gag with Obama reciting the lyrics, but it was still delightfully gonzo. B

Kevin Hart’s Monologue
Kevin Hart didn’t exactly tell any jokes during his monologue.  Nor did he say anything that could really be considered objectively funny.  But he did make me laugh. B

Steve Harvey
There we go, player, Kenan’s back with his full-on mispronunciating Steve Harvey, what with the “Pho-Bye-iss” and the “equilibrium.”  The Dogglegangers were also a delight, especially the King Charles Spaniels of Comedy. B+