Producers: Marvin Peart, Rosa Morris Peart and Phillip Glasser Director: Tim Hill Screenplay: Tom J. Astie and Matt Ember Cast: Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Laura Marano, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Christopher Walken, Juliocesar Chavez, Isaac Kragten, T.J. McGibbon, Poppy Gagnon, Lydia Styslinger, Joe Gelchion, Colin Ford, Faizon Love Drew Scheid and Clayton English Distributor: 101 Studios
In the most recent “Jumanji” movie “The Next Level” (not—note—“the last,” since when film production resumes there will undoubtedly be a raft of sequels), one of the young adventurers, Spencer (Alex Wolff), was perturbed because he had to share a room at home with his granddad Eddie (Danny DeVito), who was recovering from hip surgery (Needless to say, they bonded by linking up in Jumanji world.)
That minor subplot is elevated to the whole show and given a heavy dose of “Home Alone”-style slapstick in Tim Hill’s mildly amusing family comedy. The outcome is a movie that’s hardly a classic of its type, but it’s fair to say it could be a lot worse.
Much of its success derives from the presence of Robert De Niro as Ed, a retired homebuilder and recent widower who’s having a hard time making it on his own. His driving skills have deteriorated and he forgot to renew his license anyway; he’s also instigated a brawl with a grocery store manager (Faizon Love) over his inability to use the self-serve scanners. No wonder his daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) insists that he move in with her family—architect husband Arthur (Rob Riggle) and their kids teen Mia (Laura Marano), sixth-grader Peter (Oakes Fegley) and sweet little Jennifer (Poppy Gagnon). Unfortunately, that means that Peter will have to cede his beloved second-floor bedroom to Ed and move to the attic.
Unhappy over the move and egged on by his school buddies (Juliocesar Chavez, Isaac Kragten, T.J. McGibbon and Lydia Styslinger), Peter declares a prank war on Ed demanding return of his room. Grandpa tries to persuade him gently to drop the idea, but eventually, encouraged by his goofy pal Jerry (Christopher Walken), and helped by Jerry’s girl-ogling friend Danny (Cheech Marin) and Diane (Jane Seymour), a pleasant clerk he meets at an electronics store, he decides to respond in kind.
The consequences are comically violent on both sides, culminating at in a dodge-ball contest between the two sides at one of those fun-time trampoline centers, presided over by a bewildered referee (Clayton English), who distinguishes between the “age appropriate” team and their AARP rivals. But even that’s followed by an over-the-top catastrophe at Jennifer’s Christmas-themed birthday party, where destruction piles on destruction. Nobody’s injured despite all the pratfalls, of course.
Much of what’s most pleasant about the movie is the rapport between De Niro, who nicely balances a crotchety manner with a kindly side, and Fegley, who admittedly had far superior material in both “Pete’s Dragon” and “Wonderstruck” but captures Peter’s aggressive and vulnerable inclinations well here. Thurman and Riggle are trapped in thankless sitcom roles as she, in particular, suffers collateral damage from the intergenerational “war,” and Marano succumbs to shrillness in a dreary subplot about Sally’s anger over her relationship with a schoolmate (Colin Ford)—just one of the stray and disposable subplots introduced by screenwriters Tom J. Astie and Matt Ember (another being Peter’s encounter with school bully Drew Scheid). But Gagnon is sweet without becoming annoying as Jenny, and it’s hard to resist Walken’s quirkiness, Marin’s sneaky charm, and Seymour’s earth-mother supportiveness. It’s predictable that she plays a role at the very end of the movie, which adds a touch that might be intended to point to a sequel we really don’t need.
Shot in Georgia, the movie has the somewhat chintzy, garish look typical of such family fare, thanks to John Collins’ production design and Greg Gardiner’s editing, and the score by Aaron Zigman is at times overly jolly. But Hill, along with editors Peter S. Eliot and Craig Herring, draw a good balance between the noisier and quieter moments.
In sum, a medium-grade family comedy that will win no awards for originality or classiness, but is a lot more digestible than such recent efforts along similar lines as “Playing With Fire.”