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Entries in Ice Cube (4)

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

Friday
Feb242012

Rampart

A great performance does not make a great movie. People tend to forget that sometimes. The best example in recent years is The Wrestler. Although still a good movie and certainly recommendable, its story wasn’t as captivating or as complex as it thought it was. Mickey Rourke was breathtaking and deserved to be standing on that stage during awards season clutching an Oscar just as much as Sean Penn was for Milk, but the movie that surrounded that performance simply wasn’t up to his level. The same can be said for this week’s expanding release, Rampart. Woody Harrelson is terrific in the lead role, even as the movie struggles to find what it is it wants to say. It’s good, but given its lack of awards recognitions, it fell far short of film glory.

The film takes place in Los Angeles in 1999, during the famous LAPD Rampart scandal where more than 70 officers were charged with misconduct that included everything from covering up evidence to unprovoked murders. Harrelson plays David Brown, one of the cops suspected of unethical behavior, who, after being caught on tape violently beating a fleeing motorist after an accident, goes under investigation for his behavior.

All of that is fine and dandy and it creates a perfect backdrop for what could have been a wonderful drama. There’s corruption, violence, cover ups and all kinds of struggles, both internal and external, that the character has to face. With a clear idea of what it was going for, Rampart could have been a intriguing character study, but as is, you never truly get a sense of Officer Brown’s personality, despite Harrelson’s gripping performance (which is one of the main reasons this movie still succeeds), because you never get to see it. Instead, most of his personality traits are simply read off in passing dialogue. At one point, his daughter calls him homophobic, yet he has no interaction with a gay person throughout the entire film. She also calls him a racist, but as far as the viewer can tell, he’s only called a racist because the person he’s caught beating up on camera is black (and you get the feeling he would have done that no matter the person’s race). She even goes so far as to label him as sexist, but no scenes support that claim. In fact, the only four people in the entire world he cares about are female. Sure, when he picks women up at bars, he’s a little forward, but sexual aggression does not equate to sexism.

The only thing she gets right is when she calls him a misanthrope. As he expressly states, he hates everyone equally and, although this fact negates nearly every other label attached to his character, it provides for the most interesting sections of the film. His cold demeanor and brutal tactics don’t seem to stem solely from his reckless disregard for the rules. They seem to have evolved from the practices of those he works with. For instance, after making the news for beating that motorist to the edge of death, he is greeted with cheering and applause by his fellow police officers. Only a select few, mainly the ones investigating him, seem to have a moral compass. His brutal behavior reflects the culture of his job and those around him. As time goes on, his past actions begin to look more like inevitabilities than poor decisions.

Nevertheless, the meaning of all this is left vague. Whatever Rampart is trying to say about Officer Brown, the Rampart scandal or simply police corruption in general gets lost in its own maze of contradictions, but Harrelson keeps the movie afloat, even though his supporting cast isn’t the strongest in the world, especially Ice Cube, whose proven ineffective screen presence is that much more noticeable when opposite a veteran such as Harrelson. One could make the argument that the potency of the supporting characters is what makes a character study, especially one like this where the protagonist’s line of work forces him to interact with others. It’s a completely valid point and a suitable critique of this movie, but Harrelson is so good, he makes you forget all that and appreciate the film for its strengths rather than its weaknesses.

Rampart receives 3/5

Friday
Aug202010

Lottery Ticket

I have no idea what I’d do if I won the lottery. I suppose I’d share the money with friends and family, buy a few nice things and give some to charity, which is essentially what happens in Lottery Ticket, the new star vehicle for the rapper Bow Wow, but I doubt my experience would be as hackneyed, clichéd and stereotypical. With an amateurish script from first time screenwriter Abdul Williams and bland direction from Erik White, known mostly for his video music work, Lottery Ticket fails to do much other than exist, despite the slight charm and occasional chuckle.

The story revolves around Kevin (Bow Wow), a shoe enthusiast. Scribbled drawings of them line the walls of his room, his closet is all shoe boxes, he works at Foot Locker and, yes, he even irons his shoestrings. On his way to work one day, passing through his crummy Georgia neighborhood strewn with drug dealers, thieves and morons, he runs into his pal Benny (Brandon T. Jackson) and explains to him that his grandmother (Loretta Devine) wants him to buy her a lottery ticket. Before he does, however, he meets with best lady friend and soon-to-be-love-interest Stacie (Naturi Naughton) for lunch, where she urges him to keep the fortune from the post meal cookie. He does and upon arriving at the convenience store, he buys two tickets, one for his grandma and one for him, using the so called “lucky” numbers from his fortune. The next thing he knows, he has won the lottery, which is upwards of $370 million. Unfortunately, the lottery headquarters is closed for the Fourth of July weekend, which means he has to keep his ticket safe for three days, but soon the neighborhood hears of Kevin’s win and he finds himself in more trouble than he expected.

Lottery Ticket is like the unholy marriage of Do the Right Thing and Friday, two vastly superior movies. While this and Friday are similar in their comedic tones (even going so far as to emulate Chris Tucker’s look in that film), it’s akin to Do the Right Thing in its portrayal of racism and stereotypes. The difference, however, is that Spike Lee’s seminal film was a study on how they can affect individuals and society as a whole. Lottery Ticket is just ignorant.

The negative, disrespectful and damaging stereotypes seep out of Lottery Ticket like water through cracks. From the greedy preacher to the gold digging hussy to the plethora of opprobrious observations of African Americans, the film treats its characters more like things than people.

But perhaps most offensive is the generic storyline told with the wit of a first time stand-up comic who mistakes laughter at him for laughter with him. Lottery Ticket floats by nonchalantly, rarely taking notice of its misuse of comedy. Instead of writing jokes, the filmmakers merely insert well known faces in minor roles or as cameos. T-Pain, Bill Bellamy and Charlie Murphy all appear in the film, the latter of which garnered laughs from the audience assumedly because of his work on “Chappelle’s Show” despite not spouting a single funny line here.

It all leads to an appropriately predictable and clumsy conclusion that seems a better fit for a feel good television movie than a big screen event. While the acting is decent—Bow Wow is surprisingly good, though his versatility is still up in the air since he is given little more to do here than shake his head and look rattled—there’s really not much to recommend.

Millions of lottery tickets are sold each week. Only a small percentage of those who buy one will win, but you can bet on this. Play this Lottery Ticket and you’re bound to lose.

Lottery Ticket receives 1.5/5