22 Jump Street

June 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie”)
Written by:  Michael Bacall (“21 Jump Street”), Oren Urizel (debut) and Rodney Rothman (“Grudge Match”)

At this point it is almost common knowledge that 2012’s big-screen version of “21 Jump Street” should not have worked at all. A comedic spin on a late-‘80s undercover teen crime drama starring a young Johnny Depp, the film starring the schlubby Jonah Hill and the beefcake-y Channing Tatum went on to become a hit with both audiences and critics. With success comes sequels, and when it comes to “22 Jump Street,” what is the approach? In the hands of Hollywood’s hottest directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the answer is a brilliant and hilarious deconstruction of just what a sequel is made of.

Unlike how “Muppets Most Wanted” earlier this year acknowledged the diminishing returns of sequels in an opening number that amounted to the cleverest thing in the whole movie, “22 Jump Street” merely flirts with breaking the fourth wall by camouflaging all of its talk on the nature of sequels in the trappings of another police assignment that happens to resemble their first adventure. This time around, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) must infiltrate a drug ring at a local college dealing “Whyphy,” a mix of Aderall and Ecstacy responsible for the death of a female student. Along the way, Schmidt and Jenko fall into patterns reminiscent of their first undercover assignment, only this time it’s happening in a college setting.

Much like Lord and Miller’s “The LEGO Movie,” the plot of “22 Jump Street” is merely a framework to hang metatextual jokes and references on. There are no real surprises to be had when it comes to figuring out who the drug dealer is this time around, especially when monologues from Ice Cube’s and Nick Offerman’s police captains basically spell out just how the plot and interpersonal conflicts between Hill and Tatum will unfold. The film is a near-masterpiece of subversion – earned by Lord’s and Miller’s box office pedigree – that would be impressive enough even if the movie wasn’t as funny as it is.

The laughs work on multiple levels, from the pure physical humor of Hill and Tatum, the dim frat-boy antics of Jenko’s new would-be soul mate Zook (Wyatt Russell), or the meta-humor maybe a third of the audience will laugh at, like a reference to red herrings or an over-cranked car chase taking place in front of the Benjamin Hill Film studies building.  Perhaps sensing there’s not much else to wring out of this premise, Lord and Miller button the end of the film up with dozens of clips of would-be sequels. While I’d be fine with this being the curtain call for the Jump Street gang, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Hill and Tatum continue their adventures in culinary school or a prestigious dance academy.

21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson
Directed by: Phil Lord (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”)
Written by: Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”)

Considering the handful of ’80s TV shows adapted into films over the last decade, it’s impossible not to dread the idea of “Manimal” or “Magnum P.I.” finding their way to the big screen anytime soon. Even as popular as the retro revival is today — from skinny jeans to the resurgence of 3D movies — there’s really no excuse for things like Michael Mann slummin’ with “Miami Vice” or the intentional ridiculousness of “The A-Team.” For obvious reasons, we’ll give Jessica Simpson wearing Daisy Dukes a pass for now.

Yet on the heels of these substandard movie versions comes the surprisingly clever and often funny “21 Jump Street,” an adaptation of the TV series that launched teen heartthrob Johnny Depp’s career in 1987. While the plot itself leaves much to be desired, screenwriter Michael Bacall (scribe of the overrated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the duo behind the deliciously entertaining “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) use the kitschy nature of the crime show to their advantage by mocking its own drawbacks. More telling is their recognition that a “21 Jump Street” movie isn’t necessarily something fans of the series were begging Hollywood to make. With the pressure at a manageable level, the filmmakers toss all logic aside, don’t overdo the nostalgia, and simply have fun with it.

Starring hunky Channing Tatum (“The Vow”) and not so chunky Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) coming off his first Oscar nomination, “21 Jump Street” takes the procedural buddy cop setup and injects some much-needed energy into the tired formula. Assigned to go undercover as high school students to find the supplier of a new hip, hallucinatory drug students are dropping, rookie police officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) maneuver their way through the social network of a younger generation. It’s not just about popular kids and nerds anymore, as we learn when Schmidt points out a group of Asian girls hanging out before class dressed like punk manga comic book characters and asks, “What the hell are those?!”

Like Drew Barrymore in the 1999 rom-com “Never Been Kissed,” Hill and Tatum are forced to revisit their awkward teenage years (Jenko was a dumb jock; Schmidt was a wastoid) and do so with some sharp comedic timing. Neither will ever be able to pull off Peter DeLuise’s mullet, but the hilarious Hill and Tatum tandem is a good enough reason as any to ignore ’80s TV show-turned-movie history and (cue Holly Robinson) jump down on Jump Street.

Project X

March 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathon Daniel Brown
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh (debut)
Written by: Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”) and Matt Drake (“Tully”)

Since day one, producer Todd Phillips’ (director of the “Hangover”) teen party project has been shrouded in secrecy. Going to extra lengths to keep the screenplay from leaking and even using a nationwide open-casting call to find a lot of its unknown cast members, Phillips has been reluctant to give out too much information about the film in order to have audiences surprised at what unfolds. Keeping its original mysterious working title, “Project X” is a one-note film that is nothing more than a first-person view into a wild party.

In an effort to raise their status in at a high school where they are nobodies, Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathon Daniel Brown) look to throw a wild party for their friend Thomas (Thomas Mann). When their plan turns out better than expected and hundreds of people show up, things begin to spiral out of control as a camera catches everything that happens on one insane night.

Staying true to the “found-footage” movie tradition, unknown actors were cast so audiences aren’t distracted by anyone with actual star power. While these inexperienced actors may not be terrible, a couple of the characters are. None stick out more than the abrasive and incredibly annoying Costa played by Cooper. His fake gangster persona wears thin fast, and the character becomes extremely grating just minutes into the film. He just doesn’t let up. He’s loud, needlessly vulgar, immature and above all largely unfunny. This becomes a major problem since “Project X” deems Costa the “funny guy” of the movie, hinging many of the laughs in the film on him alone.

Part of what makes “Project X” unsuccessful is how one-dimensional the film is. Rarely can a movie be entirely summed up in one sentence, but when “Project X” is described as “high school kids throw a party that gets out of hand,” that is precisely what it is. It is no more and no less. The characters do not go through any real changes and there is no plot development to speak of. Even the “found-footage” narrative device can’t keep “Project X” from being unoriginal.

The humor in the film is juvenile, with a reliance on visual gags to emphasize how out of control the party is. While there is the requisite nudity and drug taking during the party, some of the jokes are flat out uninspired. For example, in one scene, there is a little person who escapes from inside an oven to punch people in the groin. Even the ribbing between the thinly-written characters (mostly coming from Cooper) is largely mean-spirited.

In the final act of the film, the party truly starts to get out of hand and the footage the audiences sees begins to hit the epic levels that were promised in previews. These scenes are the best in the film and provide some great visual mayhem. There are a few laughs, but “Project X” isn’t a party anyone should plan their weekend around.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

August 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) and Michael Bacall (“Bookies”)
 
While it might be easy enough to dismiss a movie adapted from a comic book or video game in some cases as too cartoony or CGI-heavy, the liveliness radiating from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – even when beyond ridiculous – is exactly the type of fanboy flair director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) was born to create. It’s unfortunate, however, that “Scott Pilgrim” substitutes a sensible script with scattershot scenes of hyper-unrealistic imagery set in an alternate universe void of any real emotion.

In the film, adapted from the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, our hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera in a very familiar, geeky role) spends his time making due with his cute, high school-aged girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and rocking out in his band Sex Bom-omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference for those keeping score).
 
When Scott meets hipster Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he doesn’t want anything else out of life except to make her his girlfriend. The problem is that Ramona has more than her fair share of baggage. Waiting in the wings as her and Scott’s relationship begins to blossom is Ramona’s seven evil, superhuman exes (six boys, one girl) that Scott must battle and defeat if he wants to date her.

But who really wants to see six separate fights (one is a 2-on-1 against twin brothers) when neither the hero nor the villains are very likeable? Why should “Scott Pilgrim” get a pass when so many other movies (even ones based on video games) are criticized for taking the video-game style too literal?

“Scott Pilgrim” feels suffocated. It’s a movie that is well aware of the gimmick it’s selling, but one with aspirations for something with more substance and character development. Part of that problem is, of course, that the entire “Scott Pilgrim” comic book series has been shrunk to fit into a single feature. It’s a valiant attempt by Wright and Universal Pictures, but one that ultimately can’t carry the load as everyone wears out their welcome.

As Scott fights the exes one by one (Spoiler: He kills the vegan ex-boyfriend with half-and-half…sigh), you sort of forget what he’s fighting for in the first place. Sure, it’s a clever idea if you’re into the whole save-the-princess storyline, but ultimately you’ll wish “Scott Pilgrim” would find one of those portals that’ll transport him to the final level so he can just get it over with already.