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May 12, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | May 12, 2006 |

Zathura: The film that prompted theatergoers across the country to slap their foreheads, roll their eyes, and chant in unison: “It’s the same goddamn thing!

Yes, from the makers of Jumanji — a film that depicts the fantastic events of a board game that becomes terrifyingly real — comes a film about the fantastic events of a board game that becomes terrifyingly real. It’s hard to know who should bear the most blame for this blatant copycatting: Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote both books; David Koepp, whose screenplay doesn’t even try to disassociate itself from Jumanji in the least; or the audiences, who will undoubtedly queue up to see it, screaming children in tow. But enough on that, it’s obvious enough to anyone over 10 that the film is plot regurgitation of a strangely deliberate nature. No one needs a critic to point that out to them.

Enter the dysfunctional family: Dad (Tim Robbins), a divorcĂ©, is trying his best to juggle a career and spend time with his daughter and two young sons — petulant shits, all three. Sons Walt (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (no one cares) don’t get along: Walt is a burgeoning jock with sporting acumen, on the fast track to wearing puka shell necklaces and raping co-eds in their dorms. Danny, on the other hand, is a budding young dork with a wild imagination. With Dad out of the house on work-related issues, the two brothers get into a fight when Danny hits Walt in the face with a softball (quite justifiable actually). Walt throws Danny in the basement, where he discovers a 1950s Buck Rogers-esque board game called Juman — , that is to say — Zathura.

It takes a depressingly long time to get the story to the point where meteors and stuff start exploding the house, but things actually don’t get any more interesting. See, this new and completely distinct Zathura game entails that the two players take turns moving across the board while receiving little cards each time that detail a new space disaster. The house is set adrift in space, a robot tries to kill them, and space dinosaurs try to eat them (quite justifiable actually). Sister wanders out of her room halfway through the movie, incidentally, observing intently and absorbing little. They’re helped out along the way when an astronaut named Zach Braff lite (Dax Shepard) shows up.

I’ll do my best to be fair: The special effects in Zathura are decent enough to entertain, but are spaced out between impossibly dumb plot points: Walt and Danny just can’t seem to get along, dammit, and this serves as the only element that drives the character development throughout the entire movie. The pair drag their feet in regards to dealing with one another until about the last half hour or so, when they finally see one another’s virtues yadda yadda yadda, and can finally finish the stupid game and set things right. The chilluns in the theater didn’t mind so much, but for anyone over nine, watching this plot hump grind itself out for 113 minutes would drive even Mr. Rogers to put a Glock in his mouth. Dax Shepard should have been amusing, but since his character isn’t written to be a jackass, he is not.

Even forgiving the fact that Zathura is an unapologetic rip-off (which I won’t), this film had some of the worst writing I’ve seen all year. Jumanji didn’t have that much going for it to begin with, but compared to this watered-down faux-sequel it looks like a Billy Wilder film. And Jon Favreau, as capable a comedic actor he can be, has done the unlikely again and made comedy boring behind the director’s chair. Given the nature of the script, though, I’m hard-pressed to know how Zathura could have been salvaged by anyone. I bitch a lot about movies not being very original anymore, but geez.

Zathura fails catastrophically on every front save one: forgettable entertainment for ages eight and under, or idiots. To anyone else, it’s a potent combination of suck: supremely dumb, boring, predictable, and unfunny. Oh, and there’s a delightful plot twist about incest that makes for one of the most disturbing red herrings in children’s cinema.

Enjoy, kiddies!

Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.

Zathura / Phillip Stephens

Film | May 12, 2006 |



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