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.


Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

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

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi