As much a bombardment of the senses as it is an affront to narrative storytelling, the left-footed folly Zathura deals in cheap thrills and empty suspense. Ostensibly a sequel to 1995's Jumanji (and, like it, based on a Chris Van Allsburg picture book), this mechanical mess follows its predecessor's magical logic of a board game dictating reality. Zathura trades zoo animals for outer space, though, and hurtles baffled brothers Walter (Hutcherson) and Peter (Bobo) along with their Craftsman home into the interstellar firmament. As one chaotic turn leads to the next, the boys must keep playing in the desperate hope that finishing the game will send them back to Earth. Meanwhile, everything from meteor showers to flesh-eating reptiles pummels the floating real estate, and the brothers spend most of their time ducking, hiding, dodging and just plain yelling.
What they don't do is be very proactive in their own destiny, so they just watch the game run roughshod over their lives. The movie purports to show how an older boy comes to love and appreciate his younger brother, but the transformation is simply forced and corny (and inspires one truly silly New Age doppelgnger twist). The start of the movie, before the galactic nonsense begins, actually features a good 20 minutes of genuine character development and snappy writing. Too bad director Favreau couldn't conjure enough to fill the whole feature.—Stephen Garrett