22 Jump Street (2014)

22 Jump StreetReleased: June 13, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube. Runtime: 112 min.

After seeing 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an 80s cop show featuring Johnny Depp, about seven times – it’s safe to say that I was quite excited for 22 Jump Street. Blending enough old and enough new to keep everyone satisfied, this is a great sequel, a satisfying film and just a great time at the movies. This starts out with Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) going undercover at a local college to disrupt the widespread distribution of a new drug called WHYPHY. This stands for Work Hard, Yes; Play Hard, Yes. It gives users the ability to become super focused for four hours – perhaps to help them study – and then they party hard.

Like the first one, they are tasked with finding the dealer and then finding the supplier. There are constant jokes that this investigation is exactly the same thing as the last one. They just have to do the same thing to bust the case wide open, and this cleverly sets our expectations from the get-go. Sometimes the exact same thing bit gets a bit tiresome by the cast mentioning it a bit too much, but it’s all very meta and it has the same clever, self-aware humour that the original possessed. And it also has some funny jokes about sequels this time around. It’s a great formula, too, because the first one was such a success because no one expected that much from it – but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller jumped on the map (after dabbling with animation, first with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and then The LEGO Movie earlier this year) and surprised everyone.

The film finds a great pace and comedic momentum to match that of the first. However, the sub-plots are a bit off. Jenko and Schmidt have a role reversal this time around, and a funny, textbook “bromance” is put in place, and it even has little aspects that mirror romantic movies, and it changes this to a bro-mantic movie. Anyway, about the sub-plots. In the first film, when Jenko was being left out of things, and Schmidt was in the heart of the investigation, the film still managed to make both partners’ different social groups have great chemistry with each other and get a few good laughs. This time, Schmidt’s social group, the more artsy poetic types, are mildly funny, but there’s not as much of a focus on them this time around. Instead, the focus is more on the social group that Jenko begins to hang out with: the dumb jocks, featuring a boring Wyatt Russell portraying a guy named Zook. There’s a big bromance focus between Jenko and him, and the character’s just not that great. This sub-plot doesn’t get a ton of laughs, and it makes the film have unfortunate derivative stretches, where Lord and Miller show that the only type of film they shouldn’t direct is a football movie.

Another minor issue: There’s a tiring joke where people still comment on how old Hill and Tatum’s characters look. It’s funny when a pair of twins comment that Hill and Tatum have “crow’s feet,” because the twins actually look young. But when the actress whose schtick is saying that Hill looks like he’s 30 in a lot of different, sometimes funny one-liners, looks to be in her late-20’s herself, it just doesn’t have the same believable effect. In fact, the actress, Jillian Bell, is also thirty years old in real life, the same age as Hill’s character. That part of the humour just doesn’t work. There’s only one other occasion where my suspension of disbelief was stretched. It’s easier to forgive in dumb comedies, but with smart ones like this one, I can’t let it slide as easily.

Don’t get me wrong, the film still truly works. It has dynamite stretches of hilarity, and a great comedic momentum. Hill and Tatum also have a stunning chemistry. It’s also enjoyable that Ice Cube gets deeper into the story, instead of being a bit too sidelined like the first one. The actor’s intense shtick works for the character, a lot more so than it did for his character in Ride Along. I loved this film because it let me leave satisfied, and it’s even greater to know that there are enough movie ideas to make this last longer than the Marvel franchise.

Score: 85/100

Ride Along (2014)

Ride AlongReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Tim Story. Starring: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter. Runtime: 99 min.

Buddy comedies remain one of the most dime-a-dozen, yet bankable, sub-genres of comedy and action. Last year, Paul Fieg made an attempt at re-inventing the genre by simply replacing men as the focal point, with women (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy were the unlikely duo) appearing in “The Heat.” The buddy cop action comedy is a formula that’s never going to change, but we can always hope for a film to try to mix things up and still give us a good time.

The newest buddy cop comedy “Ride Along” stars Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. Ben (Kevin Hart) is a fast-talking security guard who has just been accepted to the police academy. This film is really about him proving himself that he could be a good police officer, as well as prove to his girlfriend’s (Tika Sumpter) brother James (Ice Cube) that he’s man enough to marry his sister. And how does he prove that he’s man enough? Well, James can take him on a ride along, of course! Isn’t that the only way? And he proves to people watching the film that he’s man enough by nicknaming his penis the black hammer (and that’s his gamer tag, too!)

It’s funny to me that this ride along can prove that Ben is man enough to marry the sister and be a police officer, while it’s simply an excuse for James to humiliate him and prove that he can’t do either. Meanwhile, James really wants to take down this feared Atlanta criminal named Omar; he’s a ghost because he’s never been seen. One knows when that’s the case with a big-time villain, the reveal is either going to be someone we’ve already seen on screen, or a random big-name actor. I won’t reveal which one it is here, don’t worry. James has been chasing this Omar character for three years, which is ruffling his lieutenant’s feathers. It feels uninspired and a simple excuse to make this film look like it has a plot; but it is the sub-plot that enables action to happen.

If this sub-plot wasn’t existent, the film would simply be a comedic version of “Training Day.” Regardless, this is still a comedic version of “TD” – the filmmakers put in that silly sub-plot in to make it less obvious. They will help some people make the connection to it by saying that film’s title, so at least they’re honest about the fact that we’ve seen this story before. The film isn’t as bad as I might be making it out to be in these first paragraphs; I just wanted to get the flaws out of the way. The action scenes are amusing because they’re able to add comedy to the action mix of it all. That can be difficult, filmmakers try and try to do that – but it’s usually a miss. It hits here, once or twice. So director Tim Story (“Fantastic Four”) should get some recognition for it.

The film is usually entertaining because of the consistent laughs. The film is as familiar and unoriginal as they come, but I think you’ll find yourself laughing a lot, but maybe a bit less if you’ve seen the trailer beforehand – I managed to not see the trailer once. The multiple laugh-out-loud moments are the most enjoyable parts of the film. Well, really the only enjoyable parts – the action is straight-forward and there are explosions; so that might make this a fun flick for people who like loud noises. There’s an amusing aspect in one of the action scenes, but I won’t spoil it because now that I saw the trailer after watching this, I won’t spoil a funny scene that wasn’t in the trailer.

This feels like an advertisement for XBOX Live at times, but whatever; video games are cool, too. It seems Hart’s character is inspired by video games to become a cop, but with his knowledge of the sounds of weapons developed by playing realistic video games, he might just be better off as a weapons specialist. Or he might just be better off continuing playing video games with his buddy Assface. That’s a funny name, but the filmmakers are making it too easy for people to criticize it and say that they (the writers) are trying too hard for a laugh every time the name is said. At least the film is funny, but this is one of those comedies where only one character gets the laughs. That character is Ben, and Hart’s energy helps the film not be a trainwreck. Anyway, he makes it enjoyable for the audience members, while Ice Cube is simply the straight man. He isn’t able to have much fun in his role, unless you consider screwing with Ben’s character a fun activity. Cube’s stern facial expressions and his pissed-off comic delivery works with some characters (like his angry police captain in “21 Jump Street”) but it doesn’t work here.

The main reason why James hates Ben so much is because Ben accidentally set him on fire at a barbeque one time. That’s one reason to hold a grudge, I guess. Some might just want to say to him; man, you got burnt, get over it and just be thankful it didn’t leave any ugly scars on your face. Since James hates Ben for a fair majority of the film, the chemistry isn’t enjoyable. It’s a buddy comedy but the buddy aspect doesn’t feel there. In buddy movies, the two main characters might not like each other at first but they usually have a heart-to-heart about halfway through. With this, it feels like it’s never going to come. Also, with other buddy cop movies, they might not like each other, but at least one of them isn’t trying to humiliate the other. It makes James look like an antagonist to Ben’s dreams. Ben tries hard be nice to James because he loves his sister, but it’s hard when the guy is such a dick. She must be a real freak in the bedroom to make him willing to deal with James.

Note: This is one of those movies I had to put a lot of thought into my score because I enjoyed the laughs, but it was really a toss-up between getting a 60 or a 58, it might not mean much a difference to some, but it means being rotten and not being rotten on a Rotten Tomatoes scale. In the end, Hart won me over.

Score60/100

January 31 to February 2 Box Office Predictions

The two films being released the last weekend of January is “Labor Day” and “That Awkward Moment.”

The idea of a film called Labor Day being released in January is a bit of a funny idea. At 2584 theatres, this is the widest initial release for any Jason Reitman film yet. Similar films debut at $9.7 million. I doubt this film will hit double digits this weekend – I saw it yesterday, and I wasn’t a big fan of it. My review will be posted late Friday or Saturday. This is starting the February romantic craze two weeks early before Valentine’s Day, but I wonder how many are in the romantic mood. Anyway, my prediction for this is $7.7 million.

But if people are in the romantic mood, I think “That Awkward Moment” might be a better date night choice. It looks funny and it’s about relationships where people are in that state where they ask “Where’s this going?” It seems like one of those “The do’s and do not’s of dating” sort-of flicks. I’m sold on the cast, practically, well three out of four of them – I like Efron, and Michael B. Jordan especially – I still have to see him in “Fruitvale Station”, though – and Imogen Poots is good, she’s one of the only things I liked about “All is By My Side.” I’m undecided about Miles Teller, but I’ve only seen him in “Project X” and “21 & Over,” and since I hated both of those – I’ve only seen Teller work with shitty material. I might have to wait to see “The Spectacular Now” to form a stronger opinion about him. Anyway, films similar to this open at $13.7 million. What I’m curious about is, will this open closer to “21 and Over’s” $8.7 million, or “Project X’s” $21 million? Since it has Zac Efron, I think it’ll open to $18.3 million.

As for as the first holdover for “I Frankenstein,” I think it’s likely it’ll drop at least 50%, probably more like 57% since when it grosses such a low number – at $8.6 million – it usually just shuffles out of theatres. It seems to me that it will be in its second-rate theatre run by February 7th, depending on how it does this weekend. But if you want to see it in theatres, I’d get on it!

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. “That Awkward Moment”: $17.3 million
2. “Ride Along”: $13.4 million
3. “The Nut Job”: $8.3
4. “Lone Survivor”: $8.2 million
5. “Labor Day”: $7.7 million
6. “Frozen“: $7.3 million
7. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”: $6.3 million
8. “American Hustle“: $5.3 million
9. “I, Frankenstein”: $4.9 million
10. “The Wolf of Wall Street“: $4.5 million