21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

’21 Jump Street’ is the latest action bromance comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. It is a loose sequel to the television series, also of the same name, which ran from 1987 – 1991. Truth be told, I made no connection to the TV series when I saw the trailer for the film. Nor did I know the show even existed until the moviegoing colleague I saw this movie with pointed it out to me. Is this sequel faithful to the Fox cable show? Does it defile the original? I don’t know. I don’t care. All I care about is whether or not the film version of ’21 Jump Street’ succeeds in its own comedic terms. And it does.

Schmidt (Hill) is a pudgy high schooler who wears braces, and stammers when he talks to girls. Jenko (Tatum), on the other hand, is the handsome jock that will most likely end up the school’s prom king at the end of the year. Years later, they find themselves at the same police academy. Jenko excels in his physical examinations, but struggles with passing his written exams. Schmidt is the opposite. They end up becoming friends and work together to overcome each other’s limitations. They are assigned the safe task of park patrol and manage to foul up a major drug bust. As a result, they are exiled to 21 Jump Street, a program in which cops, chosen for their youthful appearances, go undercover as high school students to stop criminal activity involving teenagers. Their mission, as directed to them by the highly profane Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) is to prevent the spread of a new synthetic drug by finding the supplier.

’21 Jump Street’ is pretty funny and on a par with ‘The Other Guys’, the 2009 buddy cop comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell. This movie belongs to Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. In previous years, I’ve found Channing Tatum to be stiff and dull on screen. I did, however, have a change of opinion when I saw Ron Howard’s highly underrated ‘The Dilemma’ from last year. Tatum was the show-stealer and demonstrated a gift for comic acting. And skinny Jonah Hill is as funny as fat Jonah Hill. The hunkiness of Tatum paired with the dorkiness of Hill feels completely organic, and the two create a believable friendship. The supporting cast is also (mostly) good. Ron Riggle plays a creepy Phys. Ed teacher. Brie Larson plays the girl with a big smile who might give Jonah Hill’s character the romantic possibility he was never able to have when he was in high school. Ellie Kemper plays a Chemistry teacher who takes a sexual interest in her student, the character played by Channing Tatum. It’s interesting seeing a middle-aged Ice Cube as a hilariously angry and profane cop. Let’s not forget the track Ice Cube collaborated with NWA on in the 1990s called “F$!% The Police”.

Credit to Michael Bacall for creating a very funny script that celebrates 80s movies clichés and manages to be a strange but effective combination of teen comedy and buddy/police comedy. In fact, ’21 Jump Street’ is probably the most perceptive film about “highschoolism” than any other teen comedy I can think of in recent memory, and it’s these scenes that work best. You see, high school in 2012 isn’t the same as it was in 2005. Teenagers are now environmentally friendly, they’ve realized that bullying isn’t cool, and this forces the two main characters to experience micro-generational deracination. And the film’s villain, who is a high school student, is one that is articulate, and ivy-league bound. Oh, how the times have changed.

What prevents ’21 Jump Street’ from achieving greatness? The film’s villain, played by Dave Franco (James Franco’s younger brother) is a little weak. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller don’t inject as much as much energy and excitement into the action sequences as they do the comedic material. Some of the humor is that of the lowest common denominator variety – ahem, penis jokes, and homophobia, ahem. The final sequence felt a bit too much like ‘True Romance’, but it could have been designed to pay tribute to that movie. Clocking at 109 minutes, ’21 Jump Street’ does feel about 15-20 minutes too long for the kind of movie it is.

Still, what we’re left with is 90% of a pretty good movie which is much more than we’re usually offered at the multiplex. This is a very good example of how formulae, in the right hands, can actually work. The screenwriters and directors are aware of their own ridiculousness – they’re turning what is universally considered a cheesy television series into a movie, but they’re having fun with it. Thanks to a great pairing of the two leads, and a very funny script that pays homage to the action comedies of yesteryear, ’21 Jump Street’ is clear about its intentions, and constantly winks at the audience whilst delivering big, verifiable laughs.  

– Jerry Nadarajah

Act of Valor


The controversial, but government-approved ‘Act of Valor’ is the latest film to tackle the subject on the war of terror. This time, however, we witness real-life SEALS playing fictitious SEALS. It’s as if the filmmakers are telling the audience that a war film with a Hollywood cast automatically strips the picture of its authenticity. I don’t think so – ‘The Thin Red Line’, ‘Platoon’, and ‘Apocalypse Now’ are just a few of the many great films in the war genre. ‘Act of Valor’ should have had “WE WANT YOU” as its tagline because the picture feels like a 2-hour recruitment video. The metric that will be used to determine the film’s success won’t be the tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes, or the total dollar figure it rakes up at the box office. The key data point here will be the number of SEALS recruits. Did the number of British Secret Agent applicants increase significantly when ‘Casino Royale’ was in theatres?

A team of six Navy SEALS are sent to the Philippines to rescue a CIA agent who has been kidnapped. Prior to her kidnapping, she was investigating a connection between a terrorist, Shabal, and an international smuggler, Christo. In the process of the rescue mission, the SEALS discover that Shabal is plotting an attack against the United States with a new, horrific weapon. The SEALS are then tasked with the mission of locating Shabal, as well the 16 suicide bombers he is sneaking into the Mexican-US border. The suicide bombers are equipped with vests filled with gel explosives. Shabal’s plan is to have them detonate their vests at strategic points throughout the United States, causing media panic, and further plunging the American economy.

The real life Navy SEALS who are essentially playing themselves are unquestionably brave, honourable men. However, there is only about two sentences of back story for these characters. Of the two main characters, one is a family man who likes to surf, and the other has a pregnant wife at home. As believable as the SEALS are, they do often struggle with reciting lines of dialogue. I don’t know if I can blame them for this – they aren’t trained actors. But, what about the SEALS as characters? They collaborate perfectly, free of discord. They stick to the plan but are able to adapt when necessary. They don’t even seem to curse unless they’re under attack. Nor do they question the value of the cause. And this is why ‘Act of Valor’ feels like propaganda. The film doesn’t examine the complexities of war – there are no corrupt officials, nor are there any psychologically damaged soldiers.

What ‘Act of Valor’ does have is action, and lots of it. These cast members were involved in sensitive, high-stakes, real-life missions, and I think this gives the action sequences, which essentially consists of a series of rescue missions, an aura of authenticity. This goes for the level of detail involved in their planning, their methods of avoiding detection, and their frequent use of military jargon. That being said, I don’t know what the heck a “hot extract” is and I suppose most civilians will be as lost as I was during the moments of military speak. The characters in this film have access to a wide range of modern weaponry and while what’s present is credible, it also robs the film of some of its tension. The SEALS have the upper hand in terms of firepower and logistical support. It’s the equivalent of cheering for the house during a poker tournament.

‘Act of Valor’ is one of those movies that is easier to appreciate than enjoy. As we watch this film, we’re reminded of the men and women sacrificing their lives so we can enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. It’s an admirable attempt at providing an accurate depiction of who the SEALS are, and how they work. As a film, it has some pretty impressive mission sequences, but it also has underdeveloped characters, stilted dialogue, a cloying score, and simplistic view of the war. The most unsettling aspect to yours truly is how every frame of ‘the movie felt like it was trying to convince the audience to join the military. As you can probably tell, I can’t recommend ‘Act of Valor, so my recommendation is to skip it and rent the criminally underrated ‘Green Zone’ or the Academy Award-winning ‘The Hurt Locker’ instead.

– Jerry Nadarajah



Of the thousands of films I’ve seen in my lifetime, ‘Wanderlust’ has set some sort of record with me. I had mixed feelings walking out of the theatre, and initially posted a tweet-sized review which stated “’Wanderlust’ is 51% original comedy, and 49% stale comedy. On balance, I’m giving the film a marginal recommendation.” After exchanging a few tweets with a fellow follower (who also had mixed feelings about the picture), I decided I was being far too generous. My follow-up tweet to my review involved flipping the ratio to 51% stale / 49% original, thus revoking my initial recommendation. This has never happened before.

The film opens with George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) bickering about whether or not they should buy a micro-loft in Manhattan. They go through their list of pros and cons, whilst their real estate agent sits and watches impatiently, waiting for them to make a decision. But, George’s boss gets arrested by the FBI, and Linda has her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer turned down by HBO. This leaves them both unemployed, and they hit the road for Atlanta to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), a highly successful business owner. Along the way, they stay at a bed and breakfast hotel that turns out to be a hippie commune. After spending a night there, they head to Rick’s only to realize they can’t stand it and thus return to the commune. Trying to adapt to this unusual 60s era hippie lifestyle where free love reigns, George and Linda find their marriage challenged. There’s also an evil land developer who wants to turn the commune into a casino.

As you may have noticed from my description above, ‘Wanderlust’ doesn’t have much of a plot.  A film like this relies almost entirely on its cast to pull it off. Some of the actors are given the chance to shine. We meet the occupants of the commune, many with a handful of eccentricities. There is a nudist who is working on what he thinks will become a bestselling novel. He also stomps grapes, but thankfully covers his midsection with a thin cloth to avoid shedding pubes into them. We are also so introduced to a pregnant woman, well into her trimester, who then pops out her baby with an effortless squat. And there’s another lady who illustrates the commune’s philosophies of free love – fighting off your sexual urges with multiple partners supposedly invites disease and death, and who is a fan of either? The members of the commune do not clap their hands – they demonstrate appreciation by rubbing their fingers together. And there are no doors since privacy is not in their vocabulary.

I have to admit, I enjoyed meeting a few of the above-mentioned characters in the film and was laughing at parts of ‘Wanderlust’. Both Paul, and Justin Theroux are very good in their respective roles and they are almost good enough to make the film work. Justin Theroux’s character has been a member of the commune for so long, he mocks people and their obsessive reliance on modern technologies such as VCRs, fax machines, and floppy disks. I also have to give the movie points for being an R-rated comedy featuring lots of bad language, nudity, and drug use. Too many films these days play it safe by toning down the crude material in order to receive a PG-13 rating. The releasing studios believe such a rating will draw in a larger audience, thus yielding higher box office numbers.

‘Wanderlust’ as a cinematic experience is much like hanging with these drug-fuelled characters – the film lacks structure and cohesion. It is a series of set pieces, and while I’ve mentioned some of the comedic bits that work, there are also a number of jokes that get hammered into the ground well before the point of delivering laughs. Aniston’s character consumes a hallucinogenic substance and takes the lyrics of R.Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ literally. The presentation of her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer is also flat and unfunny. But the most cringe worthy scene that I found physically painful to watch involves Paul Rudd’s character talking to himself in a bathroom mirror. He rehearses what he is about to say to a woman who has offered herself to him, and lines such as “I’m going to get up in yo vag” are said repeatedly to the point of discomfort. This extended scene goes on for at least three minutes, and then when Rudd meets the lady for what could be the big moment, we hear it all over again, and the joke which was unfunny to begin with has now been milked for all it’s worth.

 ‘Wanderlust’ isn’t bad enough to make you wish all those involved in this project would depart from society and live on their own commune. It is a mixed bag, but unfortunately I don’t think this is a bag worth sorting through. I acknowledge that the cast does elevate what is otherwise paper thin material, but I’m fairly confident that most of us would rather see them in a better picture.  This is director David Wain’s second near miss in a row – his last project being ‘Role Models’, also starring Paul Rudd. I think the two of them will get it right the third time around.

– Jerry Nadarajah