Where Welcome to the Jungle felt unexpectedly fresh, its sequel feels like a safe cash-in. As a direct sequel, The Next Level finds some additional mileage in the formula by mixing up the now university-age characters inhabiting the various videogame avatars, as well as throwing in two old folks for good measure. The most fun to be had is in Dwayne Johnson’s impersonation of Danny DeVito, replacing his adolescent awkwardness in the previous film with an irascible lack of awareness. At nearly two hours, The Next Level overstays its welcome despite some energetic action set-pieces. The premise remains frequently fun but weaker character arcs provide limited depth and what should feel wildly exotic feels disappointingly familiar.
“At some point when you create yourself to make it, you’re going to have to either let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are, or you’re going to have to kill who you really are and fall into your grave grasping a character you never were.”
Ostensibly a documentary centred around Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, in drawing parallels between them it actually becomes a superior examination of Kaufman’s work with some interesting musings about the nature of identity. Carrey is reflective about what he discovered that people responded to in his successful comedies, but Man on the Moonwas a departure, a role Carrey pushed for because of the kinship he felt with the misunderstood Kaufman. There was something decidedly Kaufmanesque about Carrey’s insistence that was Kaufman during filming, possessed by the deceased comedian. Whilst this caused familiar method acting disruption, it went further as Carrey appears to have developed genuine connections with Kaufman’s family, who treated him affectionately rather than with horror. It is fascinating to see the rare moments when Carrey does break character — after one actor storms out and a crew member is brought to tears remembering her father, he opines, “I’m a terrible person” — and yet, through that fiction, people were connecting with something real; it was precisely what Andy Kaufman sought to achieve.
“Andy, you have to look inside and ask this question: who are you trying to entertain — the audience or yourself?”
Deliberately abrasive and inscrutable, Andy Kaufman is widely revered as a genius in comedic circles, despite leaving audiences routinely baffled by his offbeat performances. It makes sense that a biopic of the man’s life should contain some of the same idiosyncrasies, although it doesn’t always aid in communicating Kaufman’s intentions or his struggle. Carrey’s performance — his first movie portrayal of a real person — is a highlight, immersing himself utterly in a man for whom he clearly has deep admiration. Ultimately, however, Man on the Moon struggles to allow the viewer into Kaufman’s head, something better achieved by the recent Jim & Andy – The Great Beyond, a documentary about the making of this very film.