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Zathura: A Space Adventure

(2005) ** 1/2 Pg
95 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Jon Favreau. Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins.
On the evidence of Jumanji and its sideways sequel Zathura, children's author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg has a thing for exorcising childhood trauma by elaborately laying waste to family homes. In Jumanji, a board game comes to life and ravages the house of a death-marked family. In Zathura, two testy children of divorce must master a board game that lifts their home into outer space. There, they face robots, astronauts, lizard-men, and the wrath of their babysitting older sister. Don't cheat, be nice to your siblings, and be careful what you wish for are the lessons of the day, and director Jon Favreau may relate to the latter: after the profane comedies Swingers and Made, he got his Hollywood career shot making family fluff like Elf and Zathura. Little Jonah Bobo is a hoot as the six-and-three-quarter-year-old hero, and Tim Robbins does a nice turn as the father, but after Jumanji, Favreau's film feels particularly boilerplate. Zathura starts out breezily enough, but once the extravagant special effects kick in, so does a plodding pattern of hurry-up-and-wait action and reaction.
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