The star power assembled for the new wave of "Jumanji" movies is just about foolproof. Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Hart are the Rock, paper and scissors of comedic skillsets, and just about any scene with any combination of the stars interacting is a pleasure.
Things don't go quite so easy, though, for "Jumanji: The Next Level," which rounds up the cast from the 2017 reboot "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle."
An early scene, in which a character unearths a dusty old video game console, drips with symbolism for the new movie, which struggles to shake off a sense of dustiness.
A chronic lack of creativity and innovation permeates the tale, which tries to recapture the energy of the last film by weakly imitating just about every beat. "The Next Level" is a lot like the awkward, possibly inebriated uncle who keeps repeating the same jokes at family holiday gatherings, losing more rhythm with each retelling.
Once again, ludicrous circumstances zap a squad of teens into an old "Jumanji" video game. Each takes the form of an avatar character who looks nothing like their real-life counterparts, conjuring fish-out-of-water gags.
This time, though, a pair of crotchety old men (Danny Glover and Danny DeVitio) also make the digital trip, which leads to Awkwafina delivering a priceless DeVito impression.
The characters, which again include a Lara Croft-style buffer played by Karen Gillan, need to get a hold of a special gem that exists as an excuse to get them to chase its holder across various in-game realms, letting the stars gesticulate, bicker and scream for their lives against the backdrop of a forests, deserts, castles and the like.
The excuse for the silly, lifeless plot is the stereotype that video games suck at storytelling. The movie succeeds at its perceived mandate to tell a lame story all too well.
While there are occasional chuckles, the movie drags far too often, and could have flowed better had a half-hour of padding been hacked out of its unnecessarily stretched running time.
Too often, "Jumanji: The Next Level" plays like an irritating video game cut scene you want to hit the X button to skip. But with no button to be found, you have to settle for tapping your fingers on the arm rest.
RATING: 2.5 stars out of 4.