The Pitch: 21 Jump Street: Part Deux.
The Review: In the filing cabinet of “Great But Nonetheless Pleasant Cinema Surprises Of The 21st Century”, somewhere in between “you can make a good film out of a pirate fairground ride” and “Robert Downey Jr. will earn $50 million dollars a film”, you’ll find a rather thick file stamped “21 Jump Street”. Case notes in this particular file include “you can make a great comedy out of an Eighties TV series that hardly anyone remembers”, “Channing Tatum is a great comic actor” and “double Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill”. OK, that last one doesn’t have anything particular to do with the 2012 film or its sequel which we’re considering here, but hey, who saw that coming? Who even thought he’d be the talented one out of Superbad? Anyway, I digress: in the draw underneath in the filing cabinet market “Least Surprising Things To Happen In Cinema In The 21st Century”, 21 Jump Street did rather well, returning a $200 million worldwide gross off the back of a $40 million budget, so Tatum, Hill and the Jump Street gang have moved over the road to 22 Jump Street.
What you want from a sequel is enough of what you liked about the original, but with enough new elements to keep you invested in the follow-up. In a spectrum that runs somewhere from “Alien / Aliens” (radical reinvention) to the two Hangover movies (completely identical, but with all of the joy cynically sucked out), I’m pleased to be able to report that somehow 22 Jump Street is much closer to the Aliens end, despite being almost identical to the original. No, hold that: 22 Jump Street works so well because it plays with the audience’s expectations of rolling out exactly the same elements again. From Korean Jesus to a dangerous drug trip and extreme male bonding, 22 Jump Street feels like a comfortable pair of gloves that you’ve take out of the draw, ready for another winter, but sometime during the summer someone’s pimped them out with seven kinds of bling and redone the fur lining with a gorgeously soft exotic animal. Everything’s familiar, just a little bit more expensive.
The main subversion this time around is that while school was nothing like the school Schmidt and Jenko experienced – giving Hill’s Schmidt the happy school experience he never had – college is exactly like it was when the pair were probably too dumb to get into it, meaning that Tatum is now in his element and Hill’s the one that’s struggling. Other than that, it’s a re-run of the original plot: the two attempt to infiltrate the educational-based drug ring with hilarious consequences. And they are hilarious: I’m a generally quiet and reserved person in real life, and I regard any good comedy to be one that can make me physically laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Both Jump Street addresses pass this test comfortably, and at one point I was rolling around in danger of falling off my chair. The lack of the element of surprise does mean the laughs don’t quite resonate as loudly, but there’s not much in it and if you enjoyed the first one, the second won’t disappoint.
There are a few new elements to keep things fresh, including a slew of new comedy staples from American TV to complement the likes of the returning Nick Offernan and Rob Riggle. There’s also more Ice Cube this time around, in a move that should disappoint precisely no-one, and additions of new supporting characters as Jillian Bell as an acerbic roommate and The Lucas Brothers as stoner twins in the college dorm also raise some of the biggest laughs of the follow-up. The extended budget does allow for bigger car chases and explosions (oddly, this leads to the only disappointment as the opening port chase feels anticlimactic and lacking in big laughs) but whether it will result in a similarly large box-office return remains to be seen. However, the film even gets a dig in at this concept, along with pretty much every other preconception you’ll have of sequels in general and this one in particular, and the steady supply of laughs and the fact that Tatum and Hill’s easy chemistry burns just as brightly make this a successful return to Jump Street. It seems, between this and The LEGO Movie, that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller can currently do no wrong; hopefully they’ll now be as much the go-to guys for comedy as J.J. Abrams has become for science-fiction with huge amounts of lens flare.
Why see it at the cinema: Likely to be one of the year’s biggest comedies, and you’ll enjoy it that much more with an audience around you. The action scenes aren’t bad, but not as essential to be seen on the big screen.
What about the rating? Rated 15 for frequent strong language, strong sex references and violence. Also, BBFC, with reference to your extended classification, I’m not sure you really needed the quotes around “fisting”, but whatever.
Should I sit through the credits? The opening of the credits runs through so many possibilities of future sequels, most of which you’ll wish you could watch in full, that you’ll wonder where they can go if they do head anywhere else on Jump Street. (My suggestion: kindergarten teachers. Swearing, drugs and small children: killer mix.) There is a final gag at the very end, and while it may not be worth sitting through the credits for, it made me smile.
My cinema experience: Seen at a Saturday afternoon showing at the Cineworld in Cambridge (where they sold me a ticket to 21 Jump Street; I didn’t feel it was worth aruging). The Cineworld has recently introduced assigned seating, but rather than take my designated seat in the middle of the main block, as the cinema was half full I took my more usual seat on a side aisle. Since I was then out on my own, I had the odd experience of almost feeling as if I was watching in a different cinema, with the laughter in the audience weirdly displaced. No point in going to the cinema if you’re not going to get involved.
The Score: 8/10
Review Die Hard Tick List (contains mild, non-specific spoilers):
Why see it at the cinema: If you like big, loud, dumb fun and haven’t seen the White House get blown up enough this year, go for it. Olympus Has Fallen was a strange entity, a serious White House take over movie with a cartoonish Gerard Butler at its centre. Here, Jamie Foxx’s least convincing President ever and James Wood’s shock-haired Secret Service head just make the whole film cartoonish, making the wanton carnage and loss of life at the start sit even more uncomfortably.
What about the rating: Rated 12A for frequent moderate violence and threat, and one use of strong language. Bog standard 12A action movie, which if you take children under 12 to already, you won’t have any increased issues here.
My cinema experience: Proof if any were needed (and it almost certainly wasn’t needed) that you can actually tell the difference between genuine, laughing at the joke laughter and incredulous, “did they really just do that” laughter. There was a small amount of the former and a considerable amount of the latter at the screening I saw at Cambridge Cineworld; both added to the experience, although the sheer amount of audience incredulity may have caused me to knock a mark off. My only grumble was the return of the Corridor Of Uncertainty, that period between the advertised time and when you actually get the film. Cineworld have been pretty good lately, but 27 minutes for a two hour ten action movie felt a bit much.
The Score: 5/10
Previous Die Hard Tick List review:
The Review: Steven Soderbergh films are like buses; you wait ages, then two come along at once. In some ways they’re actually better than buses, as if there’s one you don’t like the next one will probably be completely different. So it should be no surprise that after last year’s taut but slightly underwhelming Outbreak-remake Contagion Soderbergh has arrived on an entirely different bus, but actually one that left the depot two years ago. (I think I’d better park this bus metaphor now.) The difference between Contagion and Haywire is a prime example of Steven Soderbergh’s experimental and varied nature, but it also means that you can’t guarantee that you’re actually going to like every Soderbergh film. This time, the Soderbergh experiment is to take a female mixed martial arts star and to attempt to make her a movie star; but does this attempt to put the fair fight in My Fair Lady actually work?
A lot of that rests on Carano’s broad but still delicate shoulders. Coming off somewhere between Jet from Gladiators and Cynthia Rothrock, what she lacks in personality and acting ability and more personality she makes up for with a steely glare, a slight grumpiness when asked to wear a dress and an unerring ability to beat the senses out of men twice her size. Sensibly, the story constructed is very much designed to show off the sense-beating, grumpiness and steely glares and minimise the need for personality and acting ability. It’s pretty much a Bourne clone; there’s running, fighting, driving, all in the name of Carano finding something about about the people who she’s fighting, driving past or running away from. The fights themselves have a real physicality and heft about them, and when Carano and Michael Fassbender start laying into each other, it’s verging on cartoon violence and quite satisfying, if you like that kind of thing.
In order to draw attention away from any perceived lack of abilities on Gina Carano’s part, Soderbergh has surrounded her with some of the finest acting and action movie talent known to man. Ewan McGregor sports a dodgy haircut and his usual unlikely American accent and does most of the exposition, and the likes of Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton also pop up in supporting roles. Here lies the first of two major problems with Haywire: the bits in between the running and the fighting are deathly dull, written as if the Enigma machine had turned its hand to screenplays. There’s lots of obtuse references to lots of things which aren’t stated explicitly, and then in the last ten minutes reams of further exposition turn up to make sense of it all. By that point, if you didn’t enjoy the fighting and the running, you may have also stopped caring.
The other drawback of Haywire is that, for all of Steven Soderbergh’s experimental nature, it actually feels about as fresh as a three day old nappy at times. There’s a little Ocean’s meets Bourne feel going on, thanks to David Holmes’ unmistakably trendy, januty score which creates a familiar ambience, but Soderbergh has been experimental so many times, and often much more so than here, that actually the familiarity of the material can breed contempt in the quieter stretches. There’s a great stretch in the middle of the film where Carano goes on the run across Dublin, beating up security guards and running over rooftops, and somehow an extended version of this sequence, stripped of the babbling exposition and filling the short but overstretched run time, might have actually been an improvement. Soderbergh’s talking about taking a sabbatical after his next two films and on this evidence he might need to recharge his batteries, as Haywire’s a lot of fun when its star is handing out violence like it’s going out of fashion, but the rest of the time you’ll wish you had Jason Bourne’s Swiss-cheesed memory, as the non-violent scenes deserve to be forgotten.
Why see it at the cinema: Yay fighty bits! Yay running about on rooftops! The rest might be a little scrambled, but whenever Carano’s kicking butt or running about in pursuit of some other low-life, then you’ll thank yourself that you saw it on a screen that did it justice.
The Score: 6/10