22 Jump Street (2014)

★★★

22 Jump Street PosterDirectors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Release Date: June 6th, 2014 (UK); June 13th, 2014 (US)

Genre: Action; Comedy; Crime

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

As simply a comedy film, 22 Jump Street lands its fair share of guffaws. And this is primarily offspring of the humour genre: from acting upon the comedic strengths of its leading pair to unwaveringly owning up to sequel-dom, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s second trek down Jump Street fulfils many a Mark Kermode six laugh test. Yet, albeit competently amusing and even occasionally side-splitting, the outing ceases to be complete. Though the directors’ panache for funny bellows through, their film isn’t consistently hilarious. Not many are. Necessary then, is another anchor to steady the ship when proceedings aren’t quite as raucous; a sturdy narrative perhaps. Sadly, the one presented to us is rather flimsy when it comes to chapters that aren’t laden with jokes.

The final bell having rung on their undercover high school lives, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) now find themselves caught up in a whole new world: college. Their location is the only difference though, given the partners are once again involved in a narcotics mystery. The new drug is called WHYPHY and has already seen to one student’s untimely demise. Whilst attempting to sideline nostalgic football dreams and romantic engagements, Schmidt and Jenko must also overcome any strains in their own relationship in order to solve the criminal dealings before things get any further out of hand.

Opting for humongous sign-waving as opposed to measly eye-winking, 22 Jump Street isn’t exactly flippant in self-referential deliberation. After an opening montage that takes us through the key scenes of its predecessor — Previously, on 21 Jump Street… — we soon find ourselves camped alongside Schmidt and Jenko in Nick Offerman’s office where Offerman’s Chief Deputy Hardy is openly counteracting the potential pitfalls of sequel syndrome by facing the fact head on. (“Do the same thing as last time, everyone’s happy.”) It’s back to the old headquarters for our two agents then, though the base has conveniently moved across the road. In the background preparations are under way for the construction of 23 Jump Street.

There aren’t any thoughtless attempts to evolve the Jump Street apple cart and the film vociferously makes us aware of that. Though in doing so, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s creation (or recreation) takes on a disguise of irony that is inherently funny. It uses this self-referential prerogative as a weapon, to cut through any sequel-related audience apprehensions and subsequently endear itself to us. We are constantly reminded that our expectations should be low, or at least no higher than last time around, for what’s about to come is a mirror image. The ruse works; we’re too busy laughing at the source’s jokes — driving through a cash machine — to fully consider the mechanics of the source itself. Essentially, by admitting the sequel is going to be much the same as the original, 22 Jump Street is a more engaging proposition because it serves and then effectively manipulates our preconceptions.

That’s just one running gag. The film motions forward in its prejudicial tirade by tapping into assumed college culture too. The volatile drug is aptly named WHYPHY, pronounced Wi-Fi, and it’s no coincidence that the side effects are a temporary buzz followed by likely danger. Notions surrounding internet addiction are vaguely pertinent but never wholly realised. We discover that the student majoring in art is unlikely to make any money when she graduates (who knew?) and there are also an obscene amount of “Bros” and “Dudes” verbally volleyed between the football players. College satire isn’t the film’s strongest comical outlet.

Indeed, the funniest moments throughout 22 Jump Street are delivered by the two leads. Both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are comfortable in their roles and the duo’s dynamic prevails as a result. It’s refreshing to see Hill continue along a path that he obviously loves navigating despite having tasted the golden allure of critical success. The peaks of his dramatic work — most of those roles are infused with humour anyway — would suggest that he’s probably a highly sought after fellow, but he seemingly still has much to offer in this genre.

Hill plays the socially awkward Schmidt across from Tatum’s Jenko, whose smarts are inversely proportional to his skill at football. The two funniest scenes involve each man without the other; it’s Schmidt’s slam poem versus Jenko’s slowly simmering realisation, and the difficulty in picking a winner is an indication of how funny both actors are in equal measure. Ice Cube, who returns as Captain Dickson, should also be noted for his hugely enjoyable turn as their always animated boss. Ride Along might have crashed and burned, but the man of many trades has shown he can be infectiously amusing when delivering superior material.

Unfortunately, the dramatic narrative between Schmidt and Jenko is a problem. Unlike the smart use of self-reference, there’s nothing shrewd about the less than budding brotherly developments between the two. Their collective arc is annoyingly mundane and, although this could be construed as another of the film’s this-is-a-sequel-so-don’t-expect-much contributions, it falls far short of the entertainment mark. The troll-like concept is funny in its manifestation as a running gag with frequent pit stops, but it fails to reward when blending into an overly schmaltzy and all too familiar story. In this instance there aren’t any jokes to veil Schmidt and Jenko’s generic bond and when attempted wisecracks are communicated, they fall on deaf ears. (The open investigation malarkey is a bit cringe-inducing due to its lack of invention and continued implementation.)

Two-hour-long gags aside, was it worth creating a sequel? I’d say so. Though not nearly as snappy or galvanising as The Lego Movie, Lord and Miller’s latest offering does trump their first visit to Jump Street. The deliberation now centres on where the franchise is headed next, if anywhere. It looks like the filmmakers have shot themselves in the foot regarding the prospect of a third film. (That sequel quip won’t work twice.) We’ll just have to wait and see.

There’s no uncertainty here. If this review of 22 Jump Street is at least moderately successful, I’ll consider writing another one. Fair warning: It’ll be exactly the same.

22 Jump Street - Hill, Tatum, Cube

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

This Is The End (2013)

★★★

Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Release Date: June 12th (US); June 28th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Comedy; Fantasy

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a pick-n-mix group of inherently comedic actors and Rihanna could converge together to play themselves effectively. Not on purpose, anyway. The concept is harnessed too tightly before it’s even able to leap from the screen; in a peculiar dynamic, the only genre truly capable of housing said character-actor flip-flopping is the comedy genre, because the gimmick of self-depiction is supposed to a funny one. But there’s a problem. This Is The End runs into a brick wall of indifference built by past humorous undertakings from the tongues of its cast: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and company are playing the same characters that they always do, and the fact that these personifications happen to be extensions of their own selves is irrelevant. Though, once the failed gimmick attempt is established as a misfire, the film is able to advance as a fairly solid profanity-laced comedy. The only real happenstance of ingenuity here is, well… this is the end.

Jay Baruchel arrives at Seth Rogen’s serviceably plush residence in Los Angeles hoping to spend some time with his Hollywood buddy. It doesn’t take long for the Hollywood norm to encroach in their affairs though, as the pair receive an invite to James Franco’s housewarming party a dash up the hill. This is too bad for Jay who hates back-patting social gathers and isn’t all that fond of many expected guests, namely Jonah Hill. However, before the duo can settle in to their raucous surroundings (or in Jay’s case, get uncomfortable) an enormous earthquake sends shudders through the ego-mansion, leaving Jay, Seth, Jonah, James and pals stranded in the midst of a fiery apocalypse. And not even Emma Watson is exempt.

Paraded as a depiction of real actors, or ‘celebrities’, fraught and bumbling as their world collapsing in front of them — almost as if self-cleansing — the film doesn’t click. Primarily because those on screen are the foul-mouthed, comically-obnoxious and quip-firing knuckleheads of recent past. We’re not seeing Jonah Hill, we’re seeing Schmidt from 21 Jump Street. Seth Rogen isn’t playing Seth Rogen, he’s playing Ben Stone from Knocked Up. Nick from Hot Tub Time Machine makes an appearance, not Craig Robinson. And that ain’t really James Franco, it’s Pineapple Express’ Saul Silver. Essentially, each of these aforementioned characters — including those present in This Is The End — are all amplifications of the actors portraying them. Therefore the gimmick presented doesn’t stand out as inventive or extra-funny in this instance because we’ve seen it numerous times before.

In fact the only time it does work is when Emma Watson is on screen. The lovely lass whose wand waving skills and crisp pronunciations in Harry Potter have envisaged an image built on pleasantries, turns into a sweary and aggressive pit bull. The Emma Watson here is an exaggerated version — or not — of the widely held self-endorsing, peer-adulating celebrity perception. It’s not actually Emma Watson, and it’s never intended to be Emma Watson (I can’t imagine too much weapon wielding goes on in her life, though I’ve been wrong before). Unfortunately, this nuance collides head on with the presentation of the others as their real selves. Clinging to the rubble and remains of a crumbling ‘it’s actually us’ mantra, the film relentlessly takes pot shots at the idea that famous folk cannot work their way out of a paper bag without external aid. Again, the aforementioned stodgy dynamic on display does consume all and thus this approach struggles to come off as planned, but that’s not to say the film isn’t funny. Because it is; often giggle-worthy, periodically laugh-out-loud.

After meandering through an auspicious beginning, directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen realign the camera with the focus on funny, as opposed to a crippled narrative gadget. Light does occasionally seep through this otherwise irreparable artifice, with James Franco’s on screen manifestation proving the most successful of the bunch, certainly within the context of real-life satire. He projects himself as an art mogul — a trait not far off the mark if Comedy Central’s Roast of James Franco is anything to go by — and his magnified pompous demeanour feels the brunt of many a gag (“This place is like a piece of me”). Intentional momentary lapses in arty bravado are just as humorous too, such as his vociferous defence of solitary right to a Milky Way. Whereas Franco’s snob is alienating but not offensive, Jonah Hill’s hollow delivery sees his character assume a position above the others. A condescending Hill oils his excellent comedy chops, evoking the sole deadpan tone amongst a rabble of manic jesters. These remaining hoaxers are serviceable: Jay Baruchel is the only normal bloke, and suffers a tad; Seth Rogen is his usual drug-driven self; Danny McBride bellows obscenities like there’s no tomorrow (to be fair, there isn’t); and Craig Robinson is the cowardly squealer-cum-good. Sound familiar?

On a final humour-related note, as far as camp comedy goes the final scene delivers in abundance. It’s the best part of an outing that bats decent gags throughout, ardently dancing far away in the distance atop the league table of hilarity.

This Is The End seeks jaw-aching victory through a narrative ploy that is prematurely shackled by the jaws of defeat. Besides, self-humiliation isn’t too admirable given that the chaps on screen have constructed comedic careers above such a ridiculing foundation. Despite these grand shortcomings, the film delivers almost consistently in the gag-realm and sort of has its heart in the right place. Given the hilariously absurd finale, you’ll probably leave not really caring about the rest anyway.