Latest Reviews

Entries in 21 jump street (5)

Thursday
Jun122014

22 Jump Street

If someone asked me what the most surprisingly good movie in recent memory has been, I would confidently answer, “21 Jump Street.” The film took a largely forgotten show from the late 80s/early 90s and abandoned much of its dramatic personality, replacing it instead with flavorful comedy and clever spoofs of the buddy cop action movie genre. Even the two lead stars seemed incompatible, but it proved to be a “don’t judge a book by its cover” type of movie, firmly planting itself as one of the funniest and smartest comedies of that year. Its sequel, wittily titled “22 Jump Street,” isn’t quite as successful, as its monotonous story gives it a mild case of “The Hangover Part II” syndrome, but the difference between that film and this one is that, while it reused similar situations from its predecessor, the jokes are fresh and more often than not manage to produce some big laughs.

“22 Jump Street” begins with a routine action scene—one involving an octopus of all things—a poor start to a sequel whose first movie nobody remembers for its action. Shortly after, it sets up its story through a quick meeting with Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) where he explains to Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) through some obvious, but still funny meta-humor that nobody expected them to succeed. To bring the old Jump Street program back was a risk, but they were successful enough to keep the program running and this time with a bigger budget. He explains that their next assignment is exactly like their last, an obvious jab at the played out “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Hollywood sequel mentality, only this time they’re going to college. There’s a new drug called Whyphy (pronounced Wi-Fi) making the rounds and, just like last time, their job is to find the dealer and stop the drug from being distributed nationwide.

Of course, just because a movie is aware that it’s copying itself doesn’t generate an automatic forgiveness for its narrative laziness. Despite a twist or two, there is nothing new here to keep one interested as it succumbs to the very same “rehashed sequel” issues that it repeatedly makes fun of through its nearly two hour runtime. Even its drama is rehashed, only this time it’s Schmidt that’s jealous of Jenko’s newfound popularity rather than vice versa. The only clear difference between this movie and the first one is that the lousy, ineffective drama is actually increased, needlessly pervading the entire thing and causing the film to fail even harder because of it. And yes, there’s another drug trip scene.

“22 Jump Street” is one of the most self-deprecating movies I’ve ever seen, since it jokes about redundant sequels even as it relies entirely on those redundancies to form its story. Luckily, some genuine effort was made to be funny and the chemistry between Hill and Tatum is as strong as ever, which makes up for most of the film’s shortcomings. There are some terrific bits here, including the most awkward fistfight ever put to screen, and also like its predecessor, it cleverly skewers filmic clichés, like the traditional “meet cute” scene. It’s safe to say that if you laughed in the first movie, you’re likely to laugh here as well, as Hill and Tatum play off each other about as well as any comedic duo has onscreen.

Also notable is the very welcome and surprisingly serious (albeit short-lived) plea for tolerance of homosexuals, though you’d have to be reaching pretty far to argue “22 Jump Street” is a message movie. Its intention is to simply make its audience laugh and sometimes that’s all you need. Despite its copy and paste story, unwanted increase in drama and one egregious moment of product placement involving Doritos as Jenko walks down a dorm building hallway, logo to camera, without actually eating them, the film works. Although it’s unlikely to leave as much of an impression as the first movie, it’s just plain funny. It does exactly what it promises it will do, which will be enough for most viewers who want more of the same, but let’s just hope a third outing spices things up a bit.

22 Jump Street receives 3/5

Friday
Jan172014

Ride Along

I heard a radio spot on my drive to the screening for “Ride Along” that spoke quite highly of it, in which it called star Kevin Hart the funniest man in America and the film itself as “the first great comedy of the year.” “Who said these things,” I wondered, before realizing that the quotes weren’t actually attributed to anyone. In television commercials, studios use quick blurbs from critics that inflate the film in an effort to get people to go see it. It was a smart move to use the same tactic on the radio, because unassuming listeners will assume the quote is lifted from a professional and not simply said by a paid announcer. I imagine this kind of deception is the only way they’ll be able to get people to see “Ride Along” because, despite a couple of legitimate laughs, it’s largely unwatchable.

Hart plays Ben, an aspiring police officer who corresponds actual police work with his first person shooter video games. He is in love with Angela (Tika Sumpter) and wishes to marry her, but to do that, he needs the approval of the only other man in her life, her intimidating, hard boiled brother, James (Ice Cube). James doesn’t like Ben and doesn’t consider him a good fit for his sister, much less a potential member of his police squad. However, Ben wants to show James that he’s a man, so James, under the ruse of giving him a chance, offers to give him a ride along. For a full day, Ben will head out with James on his police duties and James plans to make it as uncomfortable as possible to deter him from both marrying his sister and entering the police force.

Upon first impression, it’s clear that “Ride Along” is going to be a visually ugly movie. Its drab colors, no doubt increased by the desire to be satirical of “gritty” buddy cop crime dramas, pervade the screen. Its shot composition is equally unpleasing to the eye, with close-ups even extreme close-ups would consider a bit much and framing so bad it’s hard to actually read the narratively important letter the film lingers on in close-up.

But these issues are minor when in a comedy. Comedies only need to be funny. A weak story and poor visuals don’t carry much weight when you’re laughing hysterically. Unfortunately, “Ride Along” musters up only a few laughs in its 100 minute runtime. Hart, while okay in small bursts or as a supporting character (like in 2012’s surprisingly good “Think Like a Man”), is grating in long stretches. Like a miniaturized Chris Tucker, he equates comedy to spastic mannerisms and furiously fast talking. When not restrained, he overdoes this and “Ride Along” is anything but restrained.

When he’s called on for physical comedy, he’s equally bad and overacts to an absurd degree. But the real problem this film faces is that its jokes are tired and obvious. It’s easy to spot these jokes coming well before they actually appears, like when Ben is blown back by the recoil of a shotgun that is about the size of one of his legs. In a sense, Kevin Hart is treated like a reverse Kevin James, the latter always abused because of his large weight and the former treated like a feather in the wind.

The story also lacks the satirical bite it occasionally tries to capture, often succumbing to the very things it mocks. When James is laid into by the police chief for being reckless, it’s not played tongue-in-cheek as it should be; it’s taken grossly seriously. Similarly, the twist (spoiler alert!) is your typical double agent twist that is painfully clear the moment you see the person or persons in question near the beginning of the film. When you factor in the desperate dialogue that tries so hard to throw you off the scent that it ends up doing the exact opposite—the double agent(s) repeatedly tell James he should give up the investigation for a variety of reasons—the movie becomes nothing more than another disastrous January turd. If you want to see a good buddy cop satire, watch “21 Jump Street.” You won’t find much value in “Ride Along.”

Ride Along receives 1/5

Tuesday
May152012

The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to the absurd. After three progressively ridiculous films, Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno, all of which were based on characters from his HBO program, Da Ali G Show, it’s clear the man has no limit. He’ll go anywhere and everywhere if it means he’ll get a laugh, even if that means pushing the boundaries beyond what many would deem tasteful. What those people fail to see, however, is the biting satire hiding beneath its immature and offensive veneer. His show as well as his films (Ali G Indahouse notwithstanding) have displayed unimaginable examples of racism, homophobia, religious bigotry and more through a mockumentary style where the camera is turned on us, exposing the more hateful thoughts some of us manage to disgracefully conjure up. His latest film, The Dictator, abandons that mockumentary style and, transitively, much of its satirical bite. Save for a few inspired moments, The Dictator is more absurd comedy than social commentary, but it’s one that is undeniably funny, right on par with 21 Jump Street as the funniest movie of the year.

The tagline for The Dictator reads as such: “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” If you find humor in that sentence, this movie is right up your alley—no further convincing should be needed—but I’ll continue on for those who want a bit more background. Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. He’s in the process of creating nuclear weapons, which the United Nations isn’t too happy about. In response, they demand he address them regarding his plans for the weapons, so he heads off to America. However, his backstabbing advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has plans of his own and orders to have him killed. After escaping his seemingly inevitable death (now without a beard—his single most defining trait), he learns of a double being used to eventually sign a constitution that will bring democracy to Wadiya. He can’t let that happen, so he begins working at a hippie, left wing shop run by a feminist named Zoey (Anna Faris) that is catering the event in the hopes of infiltrating it, taking back his rightful place as dictator and assuring his people don’t receive democratic freedom.

It’s understandable to bring some hesitance into a viewing of The Dictator. One of the main reasons Baron Cohen’s two best films are so good is due to their approach. They followed only the most thinly mapped out stories and allowed the comedy to surface not so much based on Cohen’s presence, but more so on the reaction of the unwitting participants to what he was actually doing. The same can be said for the satire, as shocking and disgusting as some of it may have been. By throwing himself into precarious situations that yielded interesting (and sometimes dangerous) results, Cohen was able to point out flaws in our actions and beliefs. Leaving all that behind could have led to a movie that felt too safe, one that stuck too closely to a script and didn’t allow his sensational improvisational skills to shine, but such is not the case. The Dictator doesn’t necessarily feel scripted—the string of events in this movie are so bizarre, they feel more like random happenstances—and the ad-libbing remains intact. The narrative dialogue that must be said for the story to progress is never prominent enough to overshadow some of the film’s on-the-spot vocal concoctions.

Whether Admiral General Aladeen is learning the joys of self pleasure or giving a speech about what’s possible in a dictatorship, (of which all were done in the democratic America), the end result is almost always hilarious. What disappoints the most about The Dictator isn’t that the expected commentary isn’t there, but rather that it tries to be there, but isn’t fleshed out enough to work. It occasionally brings forth the wretchedness of many people’s discriminatory behavior, but those themes were explored more thoughtfully in his previous films. Although a spoof on dictators and dictatorships in general, it too fails to make any real point about them, instead only pointing out the obvious, like the superiority complexes that can rightfully be assigned to any dictator. Not every movie has to include an enlightening take on a particular subject—leaving it out is just fine if you have a technical prowess behind the production—but including it and failing is something worth addressing. That unfortunately happens here.

Still, The Dictator delivers on the laughs so frequently that you don’t miss the commentary that was featured so prominently in Borat and Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohen is once again fearless with his performance, proving he’s a force to be reckoned with in the comedic world and the soundtrack, which is full of Middle Eastern renditions of popular American songs like Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” is so offensive you can’t help but laugh at it. I may never look at Forrest Gump the same way ever again, but that’s a small price to pay to laugh as much as I did while watching The Dictator.

The Dictator receives 4/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Five-Year Engagement

Romantic comedies so often rely on formula, one should be praised when it dares to break the rules. The last film to do so is 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. This week’s latest, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t quite as delightful or original as that film, but it avoids many of the usual romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute” and the initial dislike between the two main characters before they fall in love.

At the outset of the film, Tom (Jason Segel), a sous chef in a San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt) have already been together for a year. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tom’s acting a little weird, but it’s only because he’s going to propose to Violet. When he does, she accepts and they begin planning their wedding, but a kink is put in those plans when Violet is accepted into the University of Michigan where she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. The plan is to do so in two years, so they put off their wedding until she’s done and Tom quits his upscale job to move with her to Michigan. However, she excels in her field and is eventually promoted, so they find themselves stuck there for a few more years, but Tom’s unhappiness is growing and it’s going to put a strain on the relationship.

The Five-Year Engagement grabs you right off the bat. It presents two likable actors playing two very likable people who love each other deeply. It circumvents the overused screenplay tactics like dramatic misunderstandings and the general awkwardness that most romantic comedy screen couples are forced to go through. They’ve already gotten passed all that and even though it’s only spoken, you can feel that they’ve been together for a year already. Segel and Blunt are simply fantastic together and you can’t help but cherish the love they cherish so much themselves.

You could make the argument that Violet is too much of a looker for a tall, pudgy guy like Tom, but it’s not difficult to see what she sees in him. He’s one of the most dedicated, unselfish people in the world and when she breaks the news to him that she was accepted to Michigan and will be moving there for two years (over a bottle of wine she uses to calm her nerves), he’s genuinely happy for her and actually suggests quitting his job and moving there with her; she doesn’t have to ask. Even after he hears from his boss that she was going to make him the lead chef at one of her new restaurants, he still packs up and leaves, knowing that Violet is well worth the sacrifice. He’s willing to give up his dreams and desires he’s worked so hard to obtain so she can have a chance at obtaining hers. It’s impossible not to like Tom.

Violet isn’t selfish either (despite a poorly expressed sentiment that maybe she deserves to be). She never pressures Tom to do what he does and she is always aware of his feelings. She asks him about them so much, in fact, that he tells her to stop, assuring her he’s okay with the situation. Of course, he’s just being his usual supportive self and isn’t entirely okay with it, especially after she breaks the news to him that her two year stay has been extended (a two year stay that is breezed through far too quickly). After sacrificing two years of his life, he’s ready to move on and get back to San Francisco, which is now impossible if he wants to stay with Violet. This inevitably leads to some unavoidable relationship problems, both wanting to follow their dreams without causing the other to give theirs up, a hope that is unattainable.

The unhappiness of such a stressful situation is more than enough to bring forth drama—and in a way that isn’t indicative of your usual formulaic romantic comedies—but The Five-Year Engagement nonetheless falls victim to screenplay doubt, forcing in unnecessary drama on top of the problems at hand, like when Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) kisses her after a night of drunkenness. Their friendship is charming at first, so it’s that much more annoying when it devolves into typical rom-com fare. (It’s such a shame that a man and a woman can’t be friends in a Hollywood movie without eventually hooking up.)

At over two hours, The Five-Year Engagement goes on for too long, especially considering so much of the late movie drama stems from that redundant affair and could have been cut out altogether, but what it botches with the drama, it nails in the comedy. This is a very funny movie—not quite as funny as this year’s 21 Jump Street (but then again, it isn’t trying to be)—and it will leave you smiling more often than not. Regardless of its problems, it’s a movie that just makes you feel good and that in itself is worth giving it a recommendation.

The Five-Year Engagement receives 4/5

Friday
Mar162012

21 Jump Street

A great comedy is hard to come by. A great film adaptation, be it of a book, graphic novel, video game or television show, is even harder to find. To find one that is both an adaptation and flat out hilarious seems impossible, but this week’s 21 Jump Street reminds us that both are possible. It takes a largely forgotten show from the late 80s/early 90s and reinvigorates it with style. It deviates from the drama of the original show, spicing things up with over-the-top humor and action cliché spoofing. Much like Bridesmaids last year, it probably won’t make many definitive December awards lists, but it should go down as one of funniest genre exercises of the year.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) used to be a nerd. He dressed like Eminem (complete with dyed bleach blonde hair), wore braces and had no chance of getting the pretty girl in high school. Jock and fellow schoolmate, Jenko (Channing Tatum) was the exact opposite. He was a popular, good looking sports star that was loved by the ladies. Flash forward a few years and they’re both trying to become cops in the Metropolitan City Police Department. Schmidt isn’t the athletic type and Jenko isn’t brainy, so the two join forces to help each other in their weaker departments. After graduating, they become best friends and are assigned to the Jump Street division, where they go undercover posing as high school kids to find whoever is supplying a new synthetic drug called HFS before it spreads to other areas.

This new film adaptation may not sound like a funny movie, but it most certainly is. Laughs come flying from every direction in 21 Jump Street, with only the occasional lull to bring it down. It’s a buddy cop comedy, action film, parody and self-parody all in one. It specifically makes jokes at the expense of its own existence, commenting on how Hollywood is recycling old ideas hoping no one notices. It embraces old action stereotypes only to mercilessly skewer them moments later, like a late movie bit regarding explosions. For all its zaniness, the writing is sharp, a pitch perfect parody of police procedurals, undercover investigations, and typical teenage behavior. The kids in this movie, for instance, are environmentally aware and study during their free time. The normal pyramid of popularity is flipped upside down, the athletes seen as conformists and the nerds as technical and scientific wizards, able to work together with Jenko as he employs them to tap suspected drug runner Eric’s (Dave Franco) phone.

21 Jump Street is good, smart, vulgar fun. It has more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory (including Bridesmaids). Much of that is due to the pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the latter of which has done so little in his career to impress, it would be easy to write him off here as a poor casting decision, but Tatum is spot on. His action movies may be bland and his parts as a romantic lead unconvincing, but his comedic timing is near perfect. Who knew? The only faults that come with his character are purely of the screenwriting variety, which forces him to develop a feeling of jealousy towards Schmidt for now becoming the popular one while he’s seen as the nerd, a status he’s certainly not used to. When he overhears Schmidt talking down about him, presumably for the purpose of the case, his feelings are hurt, a ridiculous and meaningless narrative progression. These dramatics don’t work and serve only to distract from what is otherwise a very funny movie.

A couple other problems drag 21 Jump Street down as well, including an awkward romance that blossoms between Schmidt and high school student, Molly (Brie Larson). Although it doesn’t go too far (at least not until the very end of the film), he’s a cop and she’s likely underage. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, but it’s a small oversight in an otherwise hilarious movie. Fans of the original show have every right to be skeptical of the film’s new comedic direction, but this is one of those few times where those skepticisms can be put to rest with relative ease. It’s not the most faithful adaptation in the world, but 21 Jump Street simply works.

21 Jump Street receives 4/5