Skip to main content

You want to investigate other people?

22 Jump Street
(2014)

22 Jump Street has been hailed as that most elusive of beasts, a (comedy) sequel that improves on its predecessor. That’s pretty much the case. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s second $300m+ worldwide grosser of 2014 cemented their King Midas status; Hollywood is now their oyster, and everyone wants to cut a deal to reap the greenbacks. That said, it should be noted that 22 Jump Street excels in one key area; being ultra-meta unto itself. The substance of the picture is guilty of the overstuffed and under-baked issues that afflict many a comedy running closer to 2 hours than 90 minutes. Lord and Miller’s trio of writers have self-consciously come up with similar-enough-to-21 Jump Street avenues to explore (college for high school, smart drug for synthetic high). As such, they (successfully) coast on its intrinsic meta-ness, ensuring instant forgiveness for its repetitions and lazy excesses.


Lord and Miller were already feasting on postmodern referencing of the silliness of making a big screen version of the Johnny Depp star-making TV show with the first instalment. They then crossed the bridge into meta-heaven with The LEGO Movie, so it’s unsurprising that they dive straight into the fray again with 22. Nobody gave a shit about the Jump Street reboot when you came on. Anyone with half a brain thought it was destined to fail” announces Ice Cube, whose casting illustrates Lord and Miller’s particular skills; he’s actually funny as a grumpy hard-ass here, taking advantage of his limited acting abilities. Hill’s excruciating attempts to be hip or show empathy (“Get the guy some fucking water. He’s black, he’s been through a lot”) have cachet mainly in the fact that it’s no-nonsense Cube who is there in the room with him. There is much talk about doing the same thing as last time to ensure success (which, pretty much, they do; it’s okay, as they do it in a meta-manner), leading to suggestions that instead they might mix things up (Tatum’s Jenko suggests, “What if I went into the Secret Service and tried to protect the White House?”) and references to 23 Jump Street well in advance of the sequel-bursting end credits.


So, despite the arch-cleverness, most of what ensues is altogether familiar. Even the bromance between Jenko and Schmidt undergoes the inevitable extended subplot where they are taken for a gay couple and then indulge the illusion through inferred language (a common comedy trope, not least from Seinfeld’s The Outing). There tends to be a have-cake-and-eat-it quality to homophobia in Hollywood comedies; if there’s a line or two that is affirmative or in favour of tolerance, then the assumption is this gives a free pass to all manner of obnoxious and offensive humour (Adam Sandler is particularly prone to this). The manner in which the Jump Streets casually traipse through a potential homophobic minefield looks entirely innocuous when compared to the antics of boorish oaf Seth Rogen in the same summer’s Neighbors.


Lord and Miller even meet this tendency towards “inclusive” homophobia head-on with Jenko’s attendance of a Human Sexuality course (“Sorry for being a homophobe”). Elsewhere, the meeting with the college psychiatrist is the stuff of classic comedy of misunderstanding. It’s just that, even when done well, as it mostly is here, this has become an overused device. And it isn’t as if one of the stars hasn’t been brought to task for using slurs (immediately preceding the picture’s release to boot).


There are a lot of jokes about how young Hill doesn’t look, and the boy is not showing his (still slim of) years well. If these get old fast, more of a concern (and I say this as one who thought his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street was excellent), he just doesn’t grab the laughs, easy sympathy, and audience engagement the way Tatum does. Hill’s looking tired in more ways than one, and Schmidt’s plotlines are mostly running on empty (the picture has the same “geeks will inherit the Earth” conceit as Neighbors, by giving Hill an attractive girlfriend; no doubt all Apatow protégées are raised this way). 


Tatum plays up the loveably naïve jock like one born to the comedy throne (and, with Jupiter Ascending finally arising soon, he may need to keep at it); he’s ostensibly the straight man, yet he makes off with all the laughs. His interaction with Owen Wilson-alike Wyatt Russell (a product of Kurt’s loins) is very endearing. Hill, meanwhile, romances Amber Stevens, leading to a twist that is so obvious it really needed to be meta-referenced since the picture isn’t clever enough to make actual yuks out of it (actually, Tatum’s response to the news is hilarious, so that’s not entirely fair).


Hill and Tatum, of course, start off best pals, split up, and get back together again. There are drug dealers led by Peter Stormare (on autopilot, but who can blame him). There’s a very funny bad/good trip sequence, a frat house intiation, a Spring Break (that, like much of the third act, runs close to having exhausted the reservoir of goodwill) and a fight between Jillian Bell and Jonah Hill that is improvised to the point of absurdity (Bell consistently wins the bout). There’s a Benny Hill reference too, but ultimately the trad-sequel approach wins out in the struggle with self-reflexivity. One can’t help thinking that, having taken it this far, Lord and Miller should just have gone for broke.



It’s been rumoured (via Sony leaked emails) that 23 Jump Street will be a Men in Black reboot affair. That might be a smart, leftfield decision. Lord and Miller will only be returning as producers, and, given that the end credits preview the next 20 or so Jump Streets (including Generations with Richard Grieco and 29 with boorish oaf Rogen; the latter testifies to how much more engaging Hill is, even if he seems not to be having quite such a good day), it’s difficult to see how the next one can be kept fresh. They’ve done and dusted the self-conscious character-based scenarios. Surely the only way forward is to throw caution completely to the wind.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.