22 Jump Street

 

Sun’s out, puns out
 
 

22 Jump Street (2014)

Comedy sequels are, on the whole, pretty terrible. Something about the “same but different” just doesn’t mesh well with comedy, as it boils down to repeating the same tired gags in the hopes of getting the same reaction. This film is going to be the shining example of how to do comedy sequels i.e. “Well, it’s no 22 Jump Street, but it’s not an Anchorman 2 level disaster either”.

“Remember me? I’m your best nightm… I’m your worst nightmare!”

After a botched arrest (sound familar?), we reteam with Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) who are assigned the same basic job as before- to pose as students and go undercover, but this time at college and find whoever is selling a new synthetic drug called Work Hard Yes Play Hard Yes (WHYPHY), which enables the user to be laser focused for several hours and then party hard for several hours after that. Much like with the first one, the script is sharp and incredibly meta and self-referential. This is a sequel making fun of sequels without it being too knowing or smug. It’s found a way to make the “same but different” approach work and should really be commended for that. Beat for beat, it’s practically the same film as the first. However, it doesn’t feel like it. It’s fantastic being in the company of Hill and Tatum again. They work incredibly well together and this film has cemented them on my all-time favourite buddy cops list that includes Gibson/Glover, Smith/Lawrence and Pegg/Frost. Ice Cube again gives a scene-stealing performance as Captain Dickson and has a lot more to do this time round. Peter Stormare doesn’t really get to do much as the villain and Jillian Bell proves she’s the best deadpanner since Aubrey Plaza.  The supporting cast is really decent. Kurt’s son Wyatt Russell is fun as the meatheaded Zook and comedy greats like Patton Oswalt and Archer actor H. Jon Benjamin show up for limited roles. It’s nice to see Queen Latifah again too, playing Dickson’s wife. We don’t see much of her, but she does get given a sneaky “Straight Outta Compton” line before her screentime is up.

So, the main question: is it funny? Damn right it is. I chuckled throughout and there are some scenes that had me gasping for air. Most of the film revolves around the knowing joke of the first Jump Street operation being a surprise success. The film flips the roles so now it’s Jenko’s turn to fit in and rediscover a yearning to play American football. Jenko falls in with a bunch of dumb jock friends and Schmidt is left on the outskirts. It’s a clever way to incorporate a “will this work a second time?” theme without coming across as too knowing and clever-clever. Whilst Jonah Hill is the one with the comedy background, and does well as the straight man, it’s Tatum that really comes into his own. There’s one scene where Jenko comes to a realisation that is easily the funniest thing I’ve seen this year. The decision to give Ice Cube more of a role is also a sound one. His interactions with Schmidt at an awkward family meeting are genius. Put simply, there’s bound to be something that makes you laugh. There are big slapstick moments as well as subtler gags, such as Jenko, fresh from attending a Human Sexuality class, realising he’s used gay slurs in the past and may be a “homophone”. I’m not a huge fan of mere references, but the film also has a genuinely funny White House Down nod and a great Annie Hall parody going for it.

Actually, since we’re talking about it, of the very few negative reviews and articles about this film, they tend to be focusing on the “gay jokes”, especially the bromance elements between Schmidt and Jenko. I must admit, the film does bang that particular drum pretty consistently. However, I see it as a meta joke rather than just a “LOL gay!” cheap yuk. Maybe it’s because the film is smart in other areas. If anything, I see it as the film burying that particular trope, Cabin in the Woods style. Having said that, there was scene that was desperately unfunny in the form of Jenko and Schmidt visiting the imprisoned Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle) and Eric (Dave Franco). Something is really off in this scene. It’s tone deaf and contains the sort of weak shit I’d expect from a Seth MacFarlane film.

Apparently, Lord and Miller were so busy with Lego shenanigans that they didn’t have time to do any script revisions before filming this film. I would say it shows a little bit. Whilst the gag rate is high, it often feels like it’s needlessly repetitive at times, especially with Jillian Bell’s “old jokes” which become just that after the first few. It also feels like there are a few scenes missing, especially when it comes to Schmidt dating a student and the whole Spring Break finale, which I’d forgotten all about, despite it featuring heavily in the posters and trailers. I reckon another pass would have tightened these scenes right up and we could have been talking about an instant comedy classic. However, we’re talking about a very good film instead.

“He has one class in Human Sexuality, and now he’s Harvey Milk.”

I suppose secondary question is: is it as good as the first? In my opinion no, but it’s a very close run thing. I may need to rewatch it, as there were some jokes that passed me by in the first one that have become laugh out loud moments on a second go-around. It’s funny as hell and a hugely enjoyable experience. They make a lot of jokes about sequels in the film, but if they decide to do 23 Jump Street, I’ll be all for it, as long as they keep the same creative team. Hell, I’d watch all the way up to 2121 Jump Street if they did that.

21 Jump Street

 

“We’re reviving a cancelled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.”
 

21 Jump Street (2012)

The whole concept of 21 Jump Street is unappealing. A slick big-budgeted comedy based on a vaguely well remembered ’80s TV series is just one of those ideas that makes you want to grab a sleazy greenlighting exec and shake them by their cocaine-dusted lapels. However, it’s so much better than it has any right to be and, at least in my opinion, is one of the funniest all-out comedies in recent years.

“You are here because you some Justin ‘Beaver’, Miley Cyrus lookin’ motherfuckers.”

After a botched arrest attempt, rookie cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are put onto a recently revived police program that takes young-looking officers and plants them in undercover roles in high schools. Jenko and Schmidt are tasked with finding and stopping the people responsible for flooding a local school with a dangerous, potentially lethal synthetic drug called Holy Fucking Shit (HFS). The script is smart. Much like many others aspects of the film, it takes something eye-rolling and generic and makes something great out of it. It takes the meta approach, nudging and winking along with the audience and it works. It knows how unappealing the premise of an ’80s reboot is and focuses on making the best of it. If more films did this, I’d find very little to complain about. It’s partly a parody of action film conventions, but doesn’t get hung up on references and tells its own story. It’s pretty much the American Hot Fuzz. Jonah Hill is on form, but it’s Channing Tatum who turns out to be the surprise MVP. The guy has on point comedic timing and can deadpan with the best of them. This film, coupled with Magic Mike, is the reason why I began to like Channing Tatum and refer to him as “Chan the Man”. Ice Cube is also surprisingly funny as the standard “angry black captain”, Captain Dickson. Brie Larson and Dave Franco are also welcome faces and both do well with what could have been limited supporting roles.

On the surface, 21 Jump Street looks like any number of other modern comedies. It’s got base, vulgar gags, it’s edited in a frenetic, stylish way etc, but it just proves that a good script can overcome most obstacles. I think the thing that sets it apart for me is the attention to character. A lot of comedies nowadays revolve around a prick being a prick to other pricks. Much like horror, comedy works better when you have an emotional reaction to the characters. Funnily enough, screenwriter Michael Bacall also wrote the abhorrent Project X, a theoretical “comedy” that encapsulates everything wrong with films of its ilk. I hated every single character in that film, which yes, is an emotional response, but there’s no payoff to it. There’s no knife-wielding maniac picking them off or anything. Even by the film’s own narrative, they have no comeuppance. We’re meant to like them and that very fact alone was enough to make me hate it. 21 Jump Street, on the other hand, knows that character is important in driving story. Let’s not get carried away here though, it’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it’s enough to draw you in that little bit closer.

It’s got the same crude humour as other contemporary films, but I found myself more willing to laugh at the knob gags because it had more to offer than simply that. It’s got some neat observations of how high school has changed since Jenko and Schmidt attended. There’s some clever role reversal as the nerdy Schmidt finds a niche with the new breed of popular kids and the former popular Jenko finds himself lumped in with the dweebs. Schmidt soon starts buying into his cover and starts treating the whole thing as a second shot for a less lonely and dismal experience. It’s smart stuff. It doesn’t feel like just a bunch of things happening for the sake of being funny. The duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum is also a big part of why the film succeeds. It’s an oddball pairing but they play off each other well.

You know a film is doing something right when you genuinely laugh at the apparently obligatory “drug trip” sequence. This is just it- the entire film takes shit that is so played out and somehow makes it funny again. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the absolute kings of this, as proved by the brilliant Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the awesome Lego Movie. It’s quite comforting to know that I’m capable of laughing at crude humour and that it was the modern bollocks featuring it that was at fault, not the other way around. I probably sound like a right snooty twat with that statement, but it can’t be just me sitting stony-faced through most contemporary comedies. I’m a pretty lowbrow guy, but something like A Million Ways to Die in the West makes me feel like I’m above coarse innuendo and the like. Not all the gags are winners. Don’t get me wrong, the joke hit rate is damn high, but Rob Riggle’s sports coach didn’t get many laughs from me. His humour is a little “standard” for my liking and found it strangely ill fitting. Still, the film wisely focuses on Hill and Tatum, so a mere minor niggle with Riggle.

“Chemistry’s the one with the shapes and shit, right?”

You’ll have noticed that I’ve spent quite a bit of this review talking about other films and not focusing on this one. Y’know- the hallmark of a terrible reviewer. The reason for this is that I can’t say much more about the film without just repeating jokes and funny scenes. I’ve watched 21 Jump Street a bunch of times now and it doesn’t lose its charm. It’s become a real favourite for just slapping on and enjoying whenever I feel cat-kickingly grumpy.

The Lego Movie

 
Everything is awesome!
 

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie is one of those concepts that sounds ludicrously shitty and calculated. It takes a well-loved toy with no proper story or defined characters of its own, makes a feature-length adventure packed with celebrity voices and promotes and merchandises the crap out of it and all its other product lines. However, the buzz on it has been overwhelmingly positive. Like, this thing is getting Pixar level scores. So, when given the opportunity to catch a preview screening, I jumped at the chance. Y’know what? It’s exactly as great as people have been saying.

“Come with me if you want to not die.”

The Lego Movie focuses on average construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) who soon gets a break from his normal working life when he gets sucked in to a world of free creativity and prophecy when he stumbles across the fabled “Piece of Resistance”. He meets master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and supposedly wise wizard Vetruvius (Morgan Freeman) and the trio, along with the help of Batman (Will Arnett) endevour to stop Lord Business (Will Ferrell) using a deadly weapon called the “Kragle” on all of Legodom. That may sound insanely generic, but as the name “Lord Business” may indicate, it’s actually more of a sideways look at genre conventions. It’s smart as anything, but never tips the balance into winking at the audience every 5 seconds. The main plot draws deliberate parallels with something like The Matrix and it really works. All of the cast are great. Chris Pratt is mostly known for playing a wide-eyed puppy dog of a man and uses that to great effect as Emmet, Elizabeth Banks has fun as Wyldstyle, Morgan Freeman is predictably brilliant and Will Arnett makes a fantastic Batman. Comedic TV greats like Nick Offerman, Charlie Day and Alison Brie do fantastic jobs and there’s an inspired bit of casting in the form of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern. Will Ferrell and Liam Neeson are genuinely funny too. All of the cast give the film an infectious sense of energy and it’s nigh-on impossible not to feel part of the fun.

If you’ve been on the internet for more than a few days, you’ll have likely seen a stop-motion Lego video parodying a big film or set to a comedy routine. The Lego Movie, whilst not strictly stop motion, has clearly taken influences from these and makes the characters look solid and played with, which gives the whole thing a certain charm. Elements, like water, fire and smoke are all made from Lego pieces and it’s hard not to laugh along with the film. Instead of being a tiresome plug for yet another one of the company’s licensed toy lines, it’s a genuine thrill when recognisable characters from franchises like Star Wars, TMNT, Lord of the RingsThe Simpsons and even Speed Racer show up for a quick cameo role. Sure, it is promoting the various figures at the end of the day, but it’s so well done, you won’t care in the slightest.

The whole film is a love letter to Lego, as one may expect. However, it’s an intelligent take on how people actually play with the bricks. Emmet lives in a world literally built on instructions. Everything is exact and normalised. Wyldstyle shows up and we are plunged into a world of unfettered creativity featuring weird and wonderful characters and places made out of mismatched pieces. Lord Business intends to make sure that everything in uniform, but our heroic rebels are fighting against him and the suppression of imagination. I’m genuinely surprised that writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were allowed to do something this clever without corporate bigwigs stepping in and insisting it be dumbed down for the kiddies. The third act is especially brave, but works beautifully.

It’s tempting not to say it, because of the crappy pun lurking within, but there are no other words for it. The Lego Movie is an incredibly well-constructed film. The storytelling is spot-on. This may not seem like a huge revelation, but you’d be surprised at the number of films (not just kids’ movies) that fall foul of basic storytelling. We get to know the characters, their motivations and their personalities. They feel like living, breathing people despite being made out of plastic. The film is even confident enough to have fun with several things. Morgan Freeman’s casting as a wise man who actually isn’t that wise is a masterstroke. Will Arnett’s Batman contains several jabs at how dark and joyless the representation of the character has become. It completely nails what it wants to do and it’s a joyful experience.

If you’ve ever played a Lego videogame like Lego Star Wars, you’ll know how charming and winning the humour can be. Luckily, the movie also has these things in spades. The film is fast and funny throughout its runtime. Whilst some of the dialogue and jokes fall a little flat to adult ears, the kids in my screening loved them. Even when the film isn’t being particularly amusing speech-wise, the screen is packed with visual gags to keep you smiling. Tell you what, by the end, my face hurt from smiling so much. This is exactly how kids’ films should be. I walked out thoroughly entertained. As I left the screening, I noticed that all parents and children alike had the same expression on their faces to match my own. That’s when you know you’ve just seen something special.

I can’t think of much wrong with the film. The only reason that it doesn’t get a full five stars is that I could have done with the spoken gags be just a little funnier. Don’t get me wrong, there are some cracking jokes contained within, it’s just that it doesn’t quite reach the level of the all time classics like the Pixar back catalogue or some of the Dreamworks oeuvre. I was left wanting a bit more time with some of the recognisable characters, but will admit that may have over-egged the pudding. Here’s hoping some Marvel minifigures show up in the sequel.

“Batman, could you make one of these in orange?”

“I only work in black. And sometimes, very, very dark grey.”

Having said that, I truly believe that this film is this generation’s Toy Story. Whilst not as groundbreaking in terms of technology, it’s got the same quality and heartfelt goodness oozing through its pores. This isn’t just a glorified advert, it’s a refreshingly great film that happens to use an existing product as its medium. It’s a reflection of our pop-culture driven society and goes much deeper than you’d expect, going so far as to examine the whole concept of creativity, individuality and play. It’s so good, it makes me angry that more kiddie films aren’t like it as it completely shows up the inherent laziness and cynicism of the normal child-centric offerings. I can’t imagine many people walking out of The Lego Movie disappointed, even after all the insane hype and the glowing reviews, including this one. It didn’t need to be this good, as the Lego name and the blanket advertising would have ensured a healthy box office return, but I’m very glad it is.