22 Jump Street

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22 Jump Street
swan_bottom_of_the_barrel
Runtime 118 minutes.
Not for children.

Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, and Channing Tatum in “22 Jump Street.”

Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, and Channing Tatum in “22 Jump Street.”

When you see Channing Tatum in a movie you know you’re going to get a wooden performance, an actor with no comedic timing, and one whose every line is reminiscent of Tony Curtis muttering, “Yonda lies da castle of my fadda” in The Black Shield of Falworth (1954).

But Curtis was serious about his craft and three years later in his breakout role, which he fought and risked his career to get, brilliantly played smarmy press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Ernest Lehman’s roman à clef about Walter Winchell, and followed that up two years later as a cross-dressing musician in Billy Wilder’s classic, Some Like it Hot (1959). Can anyone seriously see any such performances in Tatum’s future?

If Tatum’s acting wasn’t bad enough, it is disappointingly directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who also co-directed its predecessor, 21 Jump Street, which was surprisingly entertaining. Here, however, they go so far over the top that it’s just insultingly ridiculous.

Tatum is teamed with Jonah Hill. Hill has given some fair performances, but he’s given nothing with which to work here by the banal script. There are five writing credits (I will charitably not spread their names around, but two are the same ones who wrote the predecessor), with Hill receiving one, although I don’t know why he would want to be associated with this as a writer; acting in it is bad enough. There are two credits for the story for a total of seven. One story credit is to Steve Cannell for the TV series. Having gotten to know him a little before his untimely demise, I doubt if he’d be pleased with this piece of trash. Throwing a bunch of F-bombs just isn’t enough.

Ice Cube, as the boss of Tatum and Hill, was the funniest part of the first film, but here he just reprises his anger and it loses all its humor. More deplorable is a tasteless side story of Hill’s having sex with Ice Cube’s daughter (Amber Stevens). Everything is so extraordinarily implausible and silly that almost every scene has something in it that should make anybody with an IQ over 25 squirm at its idiocy.

Tatum and Hill make a meager effort to create some sort of comedic chemistry, but Laurel & Hardy need not worry. There is nothing the least bit humorous about anything the two of them do and their dialogue doesn’t even rise to a level that could at least be considered sophomoric. Apropos of Tatum’s “talent” is a scene in which he is required to try to laugh uproariously at something Hill has done. His ability to feign laughter brings Julia Roberts’ lame efforts immediately to mind.

Reminiscent of John McEnroe’s memorable rant, “You cannot be serious!,” some might claim that this is a really subtle “inside baseball” satire mocking buddy movies, male bonding, and even 21 Jump Street, that Tatum’s performance is brilliantly camp, and that it’s all a big joke. If that’s what they intended they simply fail dismally to achieve such a desired result. That’s a meager excuse for a film that is inexcusably coarse, anti-intellectual, and extraordinarily unfunny.

The end credits indicate that there are innumerable sequels being considered. While this might be part of the joke, and although I think we have far too many laws in our society, there ought to be a law against making insultingly vulgar, imbecilic films like this. The penalty would be having to spend a month in Chicago without a gun.

Third Person
swan_very_good
Runtime 136 minutes.
Not for children.

Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde in “Third Person.”

Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde in “Third Person.”

Writer/director Paul Haggis is the master of the convoluted, multi-situational film that resulted in the 2005 Oscar for Crash. He’s at it again here where he casts Liam Neeson as a writer of fiction, estranged from his wife, Kim Basinger, while carrying on with his girlfriend, Olivia Wilde. Then there’s Adrien Brody, a shady businessman who gets involved in a sort of kidnapping with sexy Moran Atias. Finally, Mila Kunis has had her son with James Franco taken away from her and is desperate to get visitation rights with him, so she hires Maria Bello as her attorney. Maria just happens to be Brody’s estranged wife. Convoluted enough?

Set in New York, Paris, and Rome, Haggis jumps back and forth among the three stories. Haggis and his longtime production designer used Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 avant-garde film, Blow up, as a touchstone in how to make this film, because both are an exposition of the relationship of reality to illusion. The finale is exceptionally thought-provoking, intriguing viewers who have not been lost by the almost two and a half hour runtime.

As to the acting, Kunis is head and shoulders above the others, although that’s not to downplay the cast, all of whom give fine performances. This film shows Kunis with the capability to shed tears on cue, and Wilde without it. But Olivia makes up for it when she sheds her clothes rather than tears, and runs naked through her hotel in Paris (which she laughingly says she thinks she should do on all her pictures because “It’s a real ice breaker with the crew in the first week. Once you do that nothing else is intimidating.”).

As an aside, although the film is set in New York, Paris, and Rome, it was shot entirely in Rome. The Paris exteriors were shot on the Via Veneto, Rome’s most famous tourist street.

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