22 Jump Street

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Genre: Action, Comedy

Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman, based on the television series “21 Jump Street” created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell.

Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Ice Cube, Keith Lucas, Kenny Lucas

Running Length: 111 minutes

Synopsis: After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) when they go deep undercover at a local college. But when Jenko meets a kindred spirit on the football team, and Schmidt infiltrates the bohemian art major scene, they begin to question their partnership. Now they don’t have to just crack the case – they have to figure out if they can have a mature relationship. If these two overgrown adolescents can grow from freshmen into real men, college might be the best thing that ever happened to them.

Review: The box office success of 21 Jump Street all but ensured a sequel would happen, and just two years down the road Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who seem to be able to do no wrong in their directing career thus far) are back with 22 Jump Street. This is a sequel that nudges and winks constantly at all the stale conventions of sequels, and it relentless lampoons all these conventions, making it one of the most self-aware sequels I have ever seen.

Nothing is spared – it understands that almost all sequels are inferior retreads to the originals, turns the “meet cute” scenario on its head, pokes fun at the increasingly ridiculous action setpieces in movies these days, and brings bromance to its most extreme, Brokeback Mountain-esque incarnation. Not everything works, but there definitely are enough moments in 22 Jump Street to justify its existence.

Nothing has changed from 21 Jump Street in this sequel, and the premise is identical – the two cops have to infiltrate a learning institution to find the source of a new designer drug. It’s moved from high school to college, and there’s a tacked on spring break segment (easily the weakest link in the movie), but despite the change in address the same positives and negatives that the first movie had is also intact here. The movie is still hit-and-miss when it comes to the comedy (but when it’s funny it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious), the running time is still a bit too long, and the central story really isn’t all that interesting.

Yet somehow the movie works, sometimes even better than the first. The chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill has become more assured, which is even more important this time round because of the focus on their bromance. Ice Cube continues playing the best “angry black Captain” in recent memory, and manages to steal the limelight every time he appears on screen. It’s probably a good thing that he has limited screentime, or he would have probably stolen the entire show from the main leads. Ice Cube is also key to what’s probably the best scene in the movie – his reaction to a revelation – and it is an absolutely priceless sequence, almost worth the price of entry on its own. While 22 Jump Street is unlikely to forge new fans of the franchise, moviegoers who appreciated the first movie would definitely find things to like about this sequel, uneven as it may be.

P.S. The distributor has requested not to discuss an element of the movie, so I can only cryptically mention that there is a rather well executed sequence, but one must be patient in order to see it in its entirety.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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Edge of Tomorrow

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Director: Doug Liman

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brandon Gleeson, Noah Taylor

Running Length: 113 minutes

Synopsis: Edge of Tomorrow unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again… and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). As Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.

Review: Groundhog Day has withstood the test of time and almost two decades later, still remains one of my favourite movies. In my books, it’s no mean feat to be compared favourably to Groundhog Day, but that’s exactly what Edge of Tomorrow manages to achieve – it is essentially a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, and although it’s a big budget action movie, the film is much better thought-out than the usual mindless summer action flick, and it’s the smaller moments that manages to impress more so than the effects-laden action setpieces.

While Edge of Tomorrow falters a little at the start, complete with the used-to-death news montage to set up the story, once the time loop starts kicking in the film becomes far more interesting. Doug Liman has obviously worked hard with the screenwriters to try and figure out exactly how much repetition audiences can take, and much like Groundhog Day, chooses to show only parts of each cycle to prevent audience fatigue. It generally works well, but there are moments where the plot does get lost. What really helps the movie is that it is not shy to inject humour into the proceedings, and indeed that are a handful of sequences that are laugh-out-loud funny, which makes Edge of Tomorrow a better-rounded movie than a typical sci-fi action film.

Tom Cruise is excellent as William Cage, mainly because he manages to dial his usual all-in-all-the-time intensity down for the role, and it certainly is refreshing to see him play a coward that dies and gets beaten down literally hundreds of times in the movie. Of course he does eventually blossom into the usual hero character he plays, but present here is at least a progression that is hardly seen in other movies headlined by Cruise. He is ably partnered by Emily Blunt, who is impossibly athletic and graceful in the film, and puts in a mesmerizing and believable performance. The only misstep is the attempt to develop a romantic liaison between the two actors, as while they share a good onscreen chemistry, the romance subplot feels undercooked and unconvincing.

And then there’s the film’s denouement, which is surely going to split audiences down the middle. Edge of Tomorrow ends with the usual CGI-laden, guns blazing finale, which really carries very little emotional heft as both the aliens and the cannon fodder are one-dimensional, and audience members are unlikely to feel vested. To avoid being spoilerly, all I can say is that the final scene is sure to throw audiences for a loop, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Fortunately, the movie has built up enough goodwill along the way that even the head-scratching conclusion is unlikely to derail the positive sentiments. Will Edge of Tomorrow stand up to repeat viewings like Groundhog Day? I don’t think so, but at least the first time round will be fun and rather entertaining.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Chef

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Genre: Drama

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jon Favreau

Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Emjay Anthony, Robert Downey Jr.

Running Length: 115 minutes

Synopsis: A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.

Review: Most current moviegoers will know Jon Favreau for the three action blockbusters he directed in the last decade – two successful Iron Man episodes (the first and second) and the not-so-great Cowboys and Aliens. Chef represents a return to his indie movie roots, and despite the big names in the cast, is a refreshing, small-budget movie with good intent and an excellent soundtrack. It also features a good amount of “food porn”, so viewers beware – any attempts to watch this movie on an empty stomach will be rather detrimental to health.

The premise of the film is a simple one, and the denouement is a given, but Favreau is happy to take his time getting there – like a true road trip, the enjoyment of this movie lies in the journey and not the destination. Favreau himself is excellent in the lead role of Chef Casper, but it’s the great chemistry that he shares with two other cast members – John Leguizamo’s Martin and the young Emjay Anthony as his son Percy, that truly makes the film special. There’s an easy, seemingly genuine camaraderie between the trio, and this makes their road trip across America a very enjoyable one.

Not only does Chef feature a fair amount of hunger-inducing food and cooking sequences (the grilled cheese sandwich scene is destined to become the de facto instructional video for making grilled cheese sandwiches), but there are also great scenes that showcase the sights and sounds of the various cities that the food truck passes by, augmented by an eclectic and energetic soundtrack. There’s interestingly a whole occasionally amusing subplot devoted to the usage of social media, but it unfortunately come across more like a paid advertisement for Twitter because it feels a little too staged.

Sure, there are elements that don’t work too well – the family drama in particular pretty much fails to take off.  It requires viewers to be vested in characters that just aren’t all too fleshed out (Sofia Vergara in particular seems to have simply transplanted her role in Modern Family), and Favreau goes off the deep end a fair bit with the schmaltz. And whilst it’s clear that Favreau has great access to big-name stars, the cramming of a good number of celebrity cameos doesn’t really do much for the film either. While Chef may not work as a degustation menu, it certainly satisfies as an amuse-bouche, and while it’s clearly a vanity project for Favreau (perhaps more accurately termed an anti-vanity project in this case), it does far better than the usual crop of films in this niche genre.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Blended

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Genre: Romantic Comedy 

Director: Frank Coraci

Writer: Ivan Menchell, Clare Sera

Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon, Wendi McLendon-Cobey, Bella Thorne, Joel McHale, Abdoulaye N’Gom, Jessica Lowe, Braxton Beckham, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Kyle Red Silverstein, Zak Henri, Shaquille O’Neal, Dan Patrick, Jacqueline Sandler, Jared Sandler

Running Length: 117 minutes

Synopsis: After a disastrous blind date, single parents Lauren (Drew Barrymore) and Jim (Adam Sandler) agree on only one thing: they never want to see each other again. But when they each sign up separately for a fabulous family vacation with their kids, they are all stuck sharing a suite at a luxurious African safari resort for a week.

Review: Blended would have been a far better movie if it focused on the romance between the lead actors, rather than trying to milk each scene for maximum laughs (and failing more than half the time). This is the third time Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have been paired together in a romantic comedy, and the decade apart has not diminished the duo’s chemistry – in fact, the film works solely because of the strength of this pairing. Whilst Blended is a serviceable film at its best moments, there are a fair number of issues that plague the movie. It’s a far better film than Sandler’s recent output, but since we’re talking about movies like Grown Ups 2 and Jack and Jill, that is a really low bar to begin with.

Blended runs at close to 2 hours, running long for a romantic comedy that breaks no new ground. Much of this is due to a really extended expositionary setup, running over 40 minutes, to (over)explain how the unlikely couple and assorted offspring gets “blended” in Africa. Save for the disastrous first date (almost entirely played out in the trailer, unfortunately), this could possibly be one of the most boring lead-ups I’ve seen in any Adam Sandler movie. Things start moving along at a better pace once everyone is in Africa, but even then the narrative for the movie is very loose, with the rest of the film presented almost in vignette style. There’s a surfeit of subplots, and again nothing that hasn’t been seen before – the tomboy daughter, the son that needs a father figure in his life, the ex-husband that never really goes away… The list goes on.

Despite being filmed in Africa, there is very little actual purpose served by having the cast situated in the exotic locale. There are some scenes of the African savannah landscape and various wild animals, but the Africans are definitely given short shrift, seemingly present in the film only as serfs to the “colonial masters”. The worst offender of all is Terry Crews, who leads what seems like a sleazy African take on a Greek chorus. There’s absolutely no purpose served in all of his scenes, and they can all be removed without impacting the movie in the least. Crews is just part of the attempt to do comedy in the film, and while there are scenes that are amusing, much of it ends up falling rather flat. At least to Sandler’s credit there are zero scenes that involve farting, pooping or vomiting (ok there’s one pissing scene but it’s actually pretty tastefully done).

It’s a thankful thing that the scenes with Sandler and Barrymore do much better, and that there are a good number of these in Blended. The duo shares an easy chemistry, and the casual banter between the two are far more humourous and enjoyable than much of the forced comedy the audience is forced to endure. Barrymore may not be playing a very deep or complex character here, but Sandler is at his best when the two share the screen. It may not be the most obvious romantic pairing around, but it works. Though it’s easily the weakest of the trio of movies (the other two being 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer), Blended remains watchable because of this, and amongst the testosterone-laden Summer action films, Blended should find a sizeable audience looking for alternatives.   

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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