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

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

All the way up! We’ll make it cold like winter used to be.

Soylent Green (1973)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in Chuck Heston’s mid-career sci-fi trilogy (I’m not counting his Beneath the Planet of the Apes extended cameo). He hadn’t so much as sniffed at the genre prior to 1967, but over the space of the next half decade or so, he blazed a trail for dystopian futures. Perhaps the bleakest of these came in Soylent Green. And it’s only a couple of years away. 2022 is just around the corner.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.

Black Hawk Down (2001)
(SPOILERS) Black Hawk Down completed a trilogy of hits for Ridley Scott, a run of consistency he’d not seen even a glimmer of hitherto. He was now a brazenly commercial filmmaker, one who could boast big box office under his belt where previously such overt forays had seen mixed results (Black Rain, G.I. Jane). It also saw him strip away the last vestiges of artistic leanings from his persona, leaving behind, it seemed, only technical virtuosity. Scott was now given to the increasingly thick-headed soundbite (“every war movie is an anti-war movie”) in justification for whatever his latest carry-on carried in terms of controversial elements, and more than happy to bed down with the Pentagon (long-standing collaborators with producer Jerry Bruckheimer) to make a movie that, while depictinga less than auspicious intervention by the US military (“Based on an Actual Event” is a marvellous catch-all for wanton fabrication), managed to turn it into a parade of heroes pe…

Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.

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…