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 Wolf of Wall Street

 
Not much rhymes with “wolf”. PUN ABANDONED.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

So- first proper review of this year. Well, sort of. This review is as prompt as it could be as it only properly came out yesterday, but American readers may be left wondering why this is so late. Well, here in the UK, we’ve been worn down and beaten to a point where we’re used to getting screwed over for no particular reason, so we had to wait a few arbitrary weeks until the film reels were suitably rainproofed and finally shipped over.

“My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the life and subsequent book of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). After a false start on Wall Street itself, with Belfort having the misfortune of becoming a broker during a market crash, we see Jordan try again. Belfort starts applying big city thinking to unlisted “penny stocks”, gets rich and starts his own company. Soon he’s assembled a selling team of basic crooks, including new friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and they slowly build up an empire. However. the company starts getting the attention of the FBI and Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) in particular, who is intent on nailing Belfort and his shyster dealings. Okay, I realised it made it sound kind of standard, but it really isn’t. I’m underselling it. The Wolf of Wall Street is a tale of excess. Everything’s turned way up to the point where it actually becomes pretty exhausting. Money, sex, drugs, greed, corruption, addiction- these are all things that completely saturate the film. Jordan Belfort is a deeply unlikable man. He made his money, like many stockbrokers, by selling lies and half-truths to gullible people and conning them out of their savings.

DiCaprio is going to win that golden statue, I can just feel it. Jordan Belfort is not going to be the defining role for him, but he’s the latest in a long damn list of characters that Leo has completely owned. This is both his most over-the-top and nuanced performance so far. He’s dynamite and I won’t hear a bad word against him. Jonah Hill is also a strong contender for awards gold too. When I first saw him, sporting a ridiculous outfit and even more ridiculous false teeth, my heart sank, but he does an amazing job. I think he’s a really talented dramatic actor and deserves meatier roles like this one. Everyone’s good in this film. Belfort’s trophy wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) is fantastic. I can imagine a Skyler White type situation where stupid people hate her because she doesn’t buy into Belfort’s bullshit like they do, but it’s their loss. Matthew McConaughey turns up to corrupt a young Belfort straight out of the gate in a surreal lunch scene that ends up boiling down to chest thumping and humming along to a tune that probably doesn’t exist. Even though his appearance boils down to a McCameo, he makes a big impression. Same goes for the whole film. Every so often, another actor will enter the fray and adds their specific talents to the ensemble. Jean Dujardin shows up as a Swiss Banker! Hurray! The angry fella from The Walking Dead plays another muscled angry fella! Huzzah! Jon Favreau appears as a sleazy lawyer! Bonus! Rob Reiner plays Jordan’s Dad! Cripes! Joanna Lumley stars as a classy British aunt! Blimey! It’s a damn good cast.

So, OK. The big question hanging over all of this is: “Does this film glorify this scumbag’s lifestyle?”. There have been plenty of hand-wringing articles over this subject as well as news that in several screenings, bankers and Wall Street douchebags applauded scenes of debauchery and disgusting decadence. Well, the ultimate answer is YES (if you’re a fucking braindead moron). It’s a Scarface type of situation. How many times have you seen a poster of Tony Montana on some idiot’s wall? It’s a staple of student accommodation. I’m not saying liking Scarface is stupid, I’m saying that the appearance of Al Pacino’s mug on the back of their bedroom door is probably not the moral indictment of Montana’s greed and stupidity that the film is. People cling to the fact that Tony Montana managed to get the money, the drugs and the women he set out to get. They love the fact that he went out in an apparent blaze of glory. Same in this case. There are tons of superficial idiots out there who will see the vast amounts of money, women and drug-fuelled parties on display and aspire to Belfort’s lifestyle. The sad irony is that it’s a parody of that very attitude. As I said, everything is ramped up. Chest-beating masculinity, hyper-sexuality, insane greed, all of it. The film is basically a comedy, despite it containing some dark undercurrents. It’s laughing at Belfort and his crew. I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now, but there’s an insane physical comedy sequence where Belfort is off his head on banned sedatives, Quaaludes, which is one of the funniest things that I’ve seen in recent memory. It goes on for an incredibly long time and it’s played absolutely perfectly. The whole thing is practically a cartoon. That linked article earlier in the paragraph plays with the idea that Scorsese could have done more to make Belfort look like the villain. That’s dumb. We don’t need to see the results of people losing their savings, houses and livelihoods as the result of dickheads lying down the phone. The global recession was thanks to coked-up twats like Belfort playing with other peoples’ money like it was nothing. We’ve all fucking lived the consequences.

The film is certainly makes its position on the whole thing known. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t think Jordan’s a hero. There’s a bit early on where Jordan, fresh from his initial baptism of sleaze on Wall Street, lies his arse off about a shitty investment opportunity to some poor excited schmuck on speakerphone whilst the whole office giggles and high-fives each other. As he’s talking up the possible military applications of this new tech company Aerotyne we have a cutaway to a still of the company HQ which is basically a beaten up old shack in the middle of nowhere with a hand-painted sign.  You’ll laugh, but feel guilty for doing so.  My point is this- if you can watch that scene and not figure out that Belfort and his cohorts are the bad guys in all this, walk away. The film will do nothing for you. Screenwriter Terence Winter uses Belfort’s candidness and frequent pieces to camera to really make you hate the guy.  It’s not as if he was seduced into the business on the appearance that all is fine and dandy. He knows he’s bankrupting people to line his pockets, he knows it’s illegal as shit- he just couldn’t care less and actively enjoys it.

This whole story is in Scorsese’s wheelhouse. It’s Goodfellas but with a different morally bankrupt way to the top. Yeah, one could argue that he’s hardly stretching himself, but he’s Scorsese. He can do what he wants. The film is masterfully directed and the music choices are superb. The one criticism I had of it is that it felt too long.  After three hours of everything turned up to maximum, I felt like I’d been put through the wringer (although that may be the actual point). I felt the film was repeating itself at times with multiple scenes of parties and insane money spending, but that’s just me. All I know is that I was busting for a piss by the end of it.

“Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.”

I loved The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s films like this that remind me why I like films in the first place. Great cast, fantastic direction, brilliantly written- the list goes on. Like most sharp satires, it’s bound to be misunderstood by some. I suppose the basic message to it all is crime doesn’t pay. You just get incredibly rich, slip through the cracks in the legal system, stay rich and have one of the best living filmmakers direct the story of your life starring one of the best actors around, all of which will bolster your book sales. Yup, doesn’t pay in the slightest.