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
The Review: If you’re looking for an actor who’s tried his hand at nearly every kind of movie to help make your move into the mainstream, then you probably shouldn’t look any further than John C. Reilly. From the Paul Thomas Anderson dramas of the Nineties, through a supporting turn in Chicago to Adam McKay comedies, Reilly’s choices are nothing if not eclectic and he has proven himself adept at turning his hand to both comedy and drama. So who better to lead your cast if you’re attempting to break into the mainstream after making your name in small, mumbling indie movies? John C. Reilly is almost the perfect everyman, but also manages to perfectly embody the foibles and neuroses that make him a believable loner.
This is the story of the two women in John’s life – Jamie (Catherine Keener), his put upon ex-wife, although the put-uponning is almost entirely from John, and Molly (Marisa Tomei), the woman he meets at a party and quickly forms a bond with, who seems oblivious to his eccentricities or actually charmed by them. Consequently, John is keen to hang on to Molly, although she seems secretive and distant – that becomes a little clearer when John invites himself round to her place and is confronted with Cyrus, Molly’s grown up son, whose oddities seem to make John’s pale into insignificance.
Cyrus himself is portrayed by Jonah Hill, who in contrast to Reilly seems to have made a career out of playing very subtle variations on Jonah Hill. Here, for possibly the first time, he gets to stretch himself a little, his wide-eyed stare and placid demeanour coming off initially as simply shy but revealing itself as more over the course of the movie. If you’ve seen the poster, then it’s not a leap to expect John and Cyrus to become adversaries for Molly’s affection, and that’s exactly what happens in this off-kilter romantic comedy, but it’s the performances of Reilly and Hill that make this worth watching.
Having said that, all of the cast are excellent, it’s just that the two male leads feel at the top of their game. There’s a lot of laughs here, and while the humour is driven by the awkward situations of the characters there’s still plenty of laughs to be had. There are a couple of issues though; first off, mumblecore stalwarts Mark and Jay Duplass both write and direct, and are better at the former than the latter, their insistence on the zoom employed every time a character has any kind of reaction being in keeping with similar realist material, but rather too overused here. The other is that, for a movie that feels like it’s attempting to be unconventional in its set-up, it’s all rather neat and tidy and actually desperately conventional as it moves into the final scenes. A fair amount to enjoy, but sadly Cyrus isn’t quite destined for greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: Plenty of good laughs for audience appreciation, although the direction is more intimate than epic in scope.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: Ah, Russell Brand. About an hour before writing this review, I was making my weekly call to my mother to tell her about all the things I haven’t yet done with my life, and her one and only reaction to Mr Brand’s mention was “Eurgh! Oh! He’s disgusting.” And it would be fair to say that this British dandy splits tastes, and has managed to get himself a partly sullied reputation in the UK for some of the things he’s done in the past few years. Which is what makes him absolutely perfect to take on the role of a middle aged rock star who swans around looking like the scruffier end of the upper classes and uses phrases like “affable nitwit”. At times, Brand is so good in the role that you forget he’s actually playing a role.
But the fact that he’s so suited to the role may be what’s driven this spin-off from Forgetting Sarah Marshall which, like me, you’ve probably forgotten most of, apart from Russell Brand’s English rocker Aldous Snow. You may have also forgotten that Jonah Hill was in the original as well, but gets a different role here, as the man charged with bringing Aldous from London to LA with only three days to do it. This should give a road movie feel with added jeopardy, but mainly thanks to Aldous’ relaxed attitude, at no point do you ever really feel that he’s not going to get to the Greek on time.
The real problem is that this rock star takes an awful long time to truly find his groove. While both Hill and Brand are affable enough, there’s maybe too many sequences in the first half of the movie that are of the uncomfortable social situation kind, where you’re expected to laugh through your empathy with the characters predicament, rather than actual jokes. There are a sprinkling of Aldous’ rock star videos and songs, all of which are great, and a succession of celebrity cameos, most of which are not. There’s also maybe a little too much dwelling on the serious side of Aldous’ troubled life. But what really gets this movie into gear is a diversion to Vegas to see Aldous’ dad (the always reliable Colm Meaney).
This also brings the other central character, Sean Combs’ slightly deranged record exec Sergio, into the mix properly, and he’s a revelation. (Before you say it, no, we don’t need another spin off, he’s fine with what he’s done here.) From this point on the movie is laugh out loud hilarious, only occasionally flirting with the serious again, but the Vegas sequence and a trip to Aaron’s apartment are both real highlights. Thankfully the script doesn’t feel the need to hand out too many happy endings, but the real happiness would have been seeing a movie that was the consistent quality of the last third.
Why see it at the cinema: The early uncomfortable laughs will be made that much less painful with a large crowd in attendance, a few of whom will hopefully laugh. Then you can share that experience when the big laughs kick in later.
The Score: 6/10