Might As Well Jump (21 Jump Street, 2012)

21_Jump_Street_PosterA trend began in the early 2000’s of making movies based on dramatic action shows from the 70’s and 80’s, but treating them as a joke.  This has had…decidedly mixed results.

21 Jump Street was part of the line-up of a upstart new network called Fox.  It was the story of a division of young cops who would go into schools undercover, posing as students, to bust drug dealers and the like.  The show’s biggest claim to fame was that it introduced Johnny Depp to the world.

In the film, we meet loser Schmidt (Jonah Hill) who has a humiliating day at school.  He is rejected by a girl and pushed around by his bully Jenko (Channing Tatum) .  Except, Jenko is having his own trouble…his grades are so bad, he is not going to be allowed to go to prom.  A few years later they are both at the police academy.  At first, Jenko resumes his role as bully, but they quickly realize both can help each other get through.  As Jenko helps Schmidt with the physical tests, Schmidt helps Jenko pass the mental ones.

They are disappointed to discover their first gig is as bike cops in a park.  But an ill fated drug bust leads them to Jump Street, an old program that is being revived.  They are sent into a high school to determine who is selling a new and dangerous drug.

The story is not entirely fresh, and yet, this is kind of the point.  The filmmakers are seeking to have some fun with both cop and action film tropes.  This leads to a lot of entertaining visual gags.  The drug ring is run by hip and socially conscious kids.  When Jenko tries mocking kids for being concerned about the environment, he is informed that this is just so uncool.  In fact, the two friends find their social heirchy inverted.  On top of that, they confuse who is which undercover character, forcing both into roles outside their comfort zone.

21 Jump Street is not an outright parody of it’s namesake.  It is set in the same universe as the show (with original actors reprising roles from the TV Show), but it sees some of the absurdity in the concept.  And it plays with the conventions pretty well (including the very problematic area of the “Inappropriate Love Interest”).

What really holds the film together though is Hill and Tatum.  They are a genuinely enjoyable combo with a friendship that is a bit endearing.  The action scenes are well choreographed.  And, important to any action comedy film?  The action and jokes do not step on each other, so to speak.  21 Jump Street is a pleasant surprise, with it’s combination of humor and enjoyable characters.

Of All the… (Nerve, 2016)

Nerve_PosterVee is a young woman who lives life safely.  Her friend Sydney pushes her to take a risk.  And so she joins an online game called Nerve.  In Nerve, there are people who pay to watch, people who pay to play…and the unknown overseers.  In the game, participants are given dares and they must complete each one to make it to the end and make a lot of money.  At the start, the dares seem to simply push people out of their comfort zones.  As you complete a task, money is added to your bank account.  If you fail or chicken out, you are dropped from the game.

Vee soon finds herself paired up with another player, Ian.  But as the game progresses, the dares get riskier and more deadly.  Ultimately, Vee finds herself trying to survive the game and save her family.

The film has one of those “You are all Complicit” story-lines, chastising the viewer’s online voyeurism.  And there is nothing wrong with that…but the execution here is just clumsy, and Roberts does not really sell this.

The film uses the popular visual of pop-up windows mimicking social media news feeds.  This is somewhat tired, but I understand why movies themed around the internet use them.

The visual style of the film is garish colors, blues and greens especially.  The film ultimately comes apart because it simply because the concept feels implausible.  The idea that this internet game show that can result in regular deaths is super popular and well known, but allowed to function is hard to buy.  Not because the masses cannot be cruel…but it just feels hard to buy this is a game that has the blessing of the authorities.

Nerve has some lofty ambitions as a thriller, but it never is able to make you really care about these characters.  It generates, ironically enough, the very complacency it condemns.

Housing Problems (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, 2016)

neighbours_2_posterI have to be upfront here. I did not enjoy Neighbors.  I thought it was just a random set of sketch ideas, most of which were not super funny.  I don’t have strong opinions on Efron and really, sometimes I like Rogen, sometimes I tire of his gimmick early.

So, honestly, I thought I would sit Neighbors 2 out.  But I ended up checking it out when someone suggested that the film might have something more going on than the previous outing.  And Neighbors 2 does.  It actually has a story, and characters I liked.  We are quickly re-introduced to Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) who find out their life is about to get a big change.  Then we see what the frat boys Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco).  They two are facing a life changing event… Pete’s boyfriend proposes, and then they suggest Teddy move out.

At the same time we meet Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein).  The three girls were pledging the Phi Lamda Sorority.  They are disappointed to discover that sororities cannot have their own parties.  And when the girls go to a frat party, they find it all very creepy and off-putting.  So they set out to start their own off campus sorority.  They end up renting the house next to Mac and Kelly, with help from Teddy.  Mac and Kelly were planning to sell their home, but it is in escrow for thirty days.  And then the mayhem begins, as they worry the new buyers will back out when they see a busy sorority next door.

As the situation escalates, both sides take more and more risks, with mostly funny results.  This part seems pretty much like a repeat of the last film.  Except, the difference here is that you can actually sympathize with everyone in the film.    You know exactly what worries Mac and Kelly…you also can see what is compelling the sorority girls.  They want to create a sorority that is able t have it’s own parties, sans date rape drugs, attempts to bed them or get them generally naked.  The film indicts the frat culture as one less than friendly to women, and these young women are making a stand.

Truthfully, this is Efron’s movie, as he steals the scene almost every time.  As much as the film codes Teddy as being real dumb, he shows himself to be smart and helpful when he feels appreciated and wanted.  He wants to connect with people, whether it is his best friend Pete, Mac and Kelly or the Sorority.  And he also learns.  When he is talking with Shelby , Beth and Nora early in the film, he asks why they do not pledge an existing sorority.  They explain how they cannot throw their own parties, but instead must go to frat parties.  Teddy does not see the problem.  The girls offer up the rapey nature of the parties.  They cite how every theme incorporated women as “Ho’s”.  Teddy defends frat parties at first…but as he starts naming their themes he pauses…and then is horrified at just how disrespectful their parties were.  Teddy listens to people.  He takes them seriously and he learns from people.

The story ultimately celebrates relationships.  When the Sorority tries to sabotage Mac and Kelly’s marriage by sending them each messages that the other is freaking out about the marriage.  But both Kelly and Mac have, as their first instinct, to seek each other to talk it out.

The jokes in the film are effective, I laughed out loud often throughout the film.  But the jokes serve the story far better than they did in the first film.  This is the rare comedy I can think of where I enjoyed the sequel more than the original.  A lot of that is the way the story unfolds.  The film has a lot of raunchy and gross out humor, so if you really dislike that type of humor, this may not be the film for you.  But I found it all very effective and I was engaged by the film.

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