22 Jump Street Movie Review

22 Jump Street Movie Review

The fact that the 21 Jump Street movie worked was a miracle. To attempt to do it again is insane and yet the sequel works entirely because the folks behind 22 Jump Street understand that fact better than anyone. This is a meta comedy piss-take on the idea of Hollywood sequels. It’s a movie that knows bigger isn’t better, that repeating tropes never leads to improvement, and that the entire project has no reason to exist other than to copy past success. So, it does all those things just to prove the point. The concept is pretty brilliant and in the hands of meta movie maestros Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who directed 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie), it’s a pretty damn hilarious loogie in Hollywood’s face that is a welcome source of parody in the midst of a sequel-heavy summer movie season. The film isn’t quite as tightly conceived or constructed as its predecessor, most likely because the team of writers, led by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall, didn’t have as much time to craft this sublime silliness. And yet they get away with it all because messy, over long, and unfinished scripts are just one more aspect of sequels that everyone behind 22 Jump Street gleefully mocks.

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The movie opens with a hilarious “Previously On” montage to both set up the TV origins of the franchise one last time and remind audiences of how 21 Jump Street also stomped all over high school comedy tropes. From there, the sequel’s satirical target becomes the original movie and itself. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum open things up with a slapstick car chase on a bigger scale than anything from the first movie and then crack jokes about how it was stupid, expensive, and represents idiotic Hollywood sequel thinking. After that, the ever-angry Ice Cube gives them their new assignment: college. From there, the movie has too much fun pointing out how the leads are too old to pass off as college kids and plays off of their troubled bromance as Tatum finds a new jock bestie and Hill becomes a self-loathing emo freshman. Other college clichés are trotted out, but it’s really all just an excuse for Tatum and Hill to play off their oil n’ water on-screen personas and for Lord and Miller to endlessly mock the conventions of sequels while also delivering them effectively.

From the seemingly stupid title to the brilliant closing montage, 22 Jump Street constantly threatens to be far too self-conscious for its own good. The filmmakers are mocking themselves for making the movie and poking fun at audiences for even wanting to see it. That all sounds too glib and navel gazing to ever work as pop entertainment, but once again Lord and Miller prove to be masters of making movie ideas that shouldn’t work feel like movies that have to exist. Almost all of the sequel jokes they use are brilliant, yet also so obvious that it’s kind of amazing it took this long for comedy filmmakers to exploit them. At the center are of course Hill and Tatum, an ideal mismatched buddy comedy duo in terms of their physical attributes and acting styles. The one major quality they share is a gleeful willingness to mock themselves and they do so mercilessly. Supporting players like Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Peter Stormare, and Jillian Bell all come out swinging for the fences with big laughs, but this is the Hill and Tatum show and once again their unlikely pairing delivers comedy gold (it also certainly doesn’t hurt that the duo clearly like each other in real life and that always translates on screen).

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22 Jump Street delivers all of the action that buddy comedy undiscerning audiences could possibly want from the movie, but works for audiences who would never buy a ticket otherwise because of Miller and Lord’s unique style of self-mocking filmmaking. These guys are so good at what they do that they probably could deliver a straight forward goofball cop comedy with ease if they wanted, but the way they’ve turned this franchise into a big winking prank at Hollywood’s expense makes the series special in a way that it never had any right to be on paper. It all builds towards an amazing end credits montage that imagines an entire franchise of 21 Jump Street sequels with eerily cheesy accuracy. The montage is so damn funny that it has to be the end of the series simply because the joke is such a perfect note to exit on. Could this team actually make a 23 Jump Street worth seeing? Probably, but they can’t. This movie is a mic drop that everyone involved has to stand behind. They made a comedy sequel where even the warts and mistakes qualify as homage and parody, whether intentional or not. Attempting to do that again would be a mistake. It’s time to walk away and celebrate the success. There was no reason to expect the 21 Jump Street franchise to be anything other than an expensive mistake. Instead, it’s somehow one of the most creative comedy franchises to be spat out of the Hollywood machine in recent years. Now it’s time for everyone to walk away and think up their next surprise.

 

The Lego Movie Videogame (Xbox 360) Review

The Lego Movie Videogame (Xbox 360) Review

If nothing else, The Lego Movie Videogame deserves a spot in history for having one of the worst titles in the history of gaming. As a game itself, it’s a perfectly acceptable bit of fluff and far better than most licensed tie-in titles. The big problem is simply one of legacy. Not only does the game pale in comparison to the excellent movie that just hit screens, but also the Lego City Undercover and Lego Marvel Superheroes games. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all of those contemporary Lego classics, then I’m sure this game will be an absolute blast. The trouble is that roughly 99.7% of gamers who are likely to pick this puppy off shelves will know and love at least one of those titles (a very detailed and professional study was conducted to get that number, so you can trust it). As fun as The Lego Movie Videogame can be in fits and spurts, it is ultimately just standing on the shoulders of other brilliant Lego creations and never quite manages to break out on its own. Ah well, at least you can finally play as the 80s Lego astronaut, broken chinstrap and all. So that’s a minor dream come true.

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The story for the Lego Movie Videogame is the exact story of The Lego Movie, pulling scenes straight out of the flick to set up a series of Lego challenges that fans of the previous games will know all too well. The main character is Emmet, a lowly Lego construction worker who lives a life dictated by an instruction book. One day he meets a beautiful gal (well, by Lego figure standards anyways) named Wyldstyle and discovers he might be a chosen Lego figure who will rid the world of the instruction book tyranny created by the evil Lord Business and return the Lego-land to a genre-mashup world founded in creative building. The plot plays out entirely in scenes from the movie and pretty well the whole thing makes it into the game at some point. That makes this a fairly fun tie in game for fans anxious to own a copy of the flick while it’s still in theaters. But it also robs the game of any sense of surprise for those who have seen the movie. You’ll be going through those exact same motions here, only this time with levels instead of action scenes.

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Play style is exactly the same as the last few Lego titles.  The city of Brickburg operates as a sandbox hub while all of the other worlds like Western Land and Coo-Coo-Land are used as levels. As a result, the biggest map in the game is a deliberately generic city while the creative climates are limited to small level maps. A bit of a bummer, but there you go. Emmet is the main character and chances are that you won’t play as him much. In keeping with the theme of the movie, Emmet can’t build or fight very well and given that those are the main skills that define gameplay, the protagonist is absolutely useless and will only be the star during cut scenes. Beyond Emmet, there are dozens of characters from Wyldstyle to Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Abraham Lincoln. That is a Lego game tradition, of course. The only problem is that in The Lego Movie Videogame, having access to Superman and Batman will only remind players of the far superior pre-existing Lego games that they could and should be playing instead of this one.

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The entire project feels rushed to meet a release date, with the Lego games’ trademark humor essentially absent outside of the scenes from the movie. Now, it would be unfair to call it a disaster. The one major advantage Traveller’s Tales had in creating this title was a rock solid template. These designers have been building and expanding on the possibilities of Lego-themed action sequences since the ancient days of Lego Star Wars. So there are a number of wonderful adaptation of movie action scenes into levels (particularly the chase sequences), and the building dynamic is as fun as ever. The graphics are solid, and you certainly can’t describe the game as boring given that the cut scenes are hilarious and the levels are well designed (with the exception of a few really tedious platforming sequences). Yet, there’s absolutely nothing new or fresh here at all, and that’s a pretty major flaw.

For the first time in quite a while, Traveller’s haven’t reinvented the Lego game wheel. Instead, they’ve simply repeated their own formula based around designs, characters, and plotlines from The Lego Movie. If you could play this game in a vacuum, it would probably be a heck of a lot of fun. The trouble is that any real Lego fan will have just finished Lego Marvel Superheroes and fallen in love with The Lego Movie before picking this disc up. If that’s the case, you can’t help but be at least mildly disappointed. Granted, an average Lego game is still better than most games. However, given that this title offered the Traveller’s team a chance to combine franchises, genres, and techniques from all their previous work for the first time, it’s a big ol’ missed opportunity. Yep, the licensed game curse strikes again. Let’s hope someone finally gets it right one of these days.

 

The Lego Movie (Movie) Review

The Lego Movie (Movie) Review

When you sit down and really think about it, Lego shouldn’t be popular anymore. The Danish building blocks were groundbreaking playthings in 1949, but in days when toddlers are picking up iPads, they should be passé. Yet, Lego’s probably more popular than ever. There are a number of reasons why: nostalgia, simplicity, cross-marketing in videogames/playsets, and most importantly the fact that those little plastic cubes that you constantly step on at the worst possible moment open up a child’s imagination through building like few other toys. As Lego continues its age-bridging, cross-cultural assault through videogames and Star Wars/Batman/Marvel/everything themed playsets, it was inevitable that someday a Lego movie would exist. It’s just too easy to sell to family audiences, amateur stop-motion Lego movies have been made for decades now, and Lego’s multiplatform franchise is made for merchandising.

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Here’s the thing though: how do you make a feature-length movie about little plastic blocks. Break it down to that level and it’s an idea that shouldn’t work. Thankfully, Warner Brothers assigned the task to the two-heading filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who specialize in ideas that shouldn’t work. They’ve already made a cult TV show about a high school populated with clones of historical figures (Clone High), a CGI hit with one of the worst titles of all time (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs), and a feature film version of an 80s TV show few people liked in the first place (21 Jump Street). None of those projects should have worked but in the hands of Lord/Miller, they were brilliant. The Lego Movie is the closest thing the duo have had to a sensible starting point and unsurprisingly it’s not only the best thing they’ve ever done, but also the best animated film to come out of Hollywood since Pixar started phoning it in with sequels.

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It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor

The plot can be cynically broken down to a cross between Toy Story and The Matrix. It’s all about Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a Lego construction worker who has posters for “A Popular Band On His Wall,” spends his days constructing buildings based on instruction books, and constantly sings the theme song of Legoland: “Everything Is Awesome.” Then one day he spots a beautiful (well, by Lego figure standards) gal named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and inadvertently ends up fulfilling an ancient prophecy made by a Morgan Freeman-voiced Lego figure to become “The Special.” Emmet has been chosen to be the Lego drone who will take down the evil President Business’ (Will Ferrell) plot to confine Legoland to the confines of banal conformity. Emmet must bridge the gap between all the segregated Lego worlds (including a Western land and Lego Gotham City) and bring back the open building-block creation of the age of master builders. It’s all much sillier and easier to follow than it sounds, eventually building towards a big twist that most viewers will see coming, but still offers a touching ode to the imaginative power of Lego nonetheless.

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Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the Lego movie is that it is even more blatantly a commercial for the toy at the center than Transformers or Battleship and yet is an infinitely more moving and creative film than any of the toy movies that proceeded it. A big part of that is just the joy of Lego itself, a brain-building toy that has inspired generations of children to create to the point that many adults now have a full time job creating Lego pop culture replicas for the legendary toy company. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller fully understand Lego’s appeal and create a film about that subject without ever losing track of the fact that their film must first and foremost be a comedic adventure. The CGI animation brilliantly creates a low-fi feel of a stop motion Lego fan film, filled with jerky motions, blocky designs, and creative faux-stop motion effects like creating flames out of crudely animated Lego fire pieces. It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor. With Lego tie-ins to everything from Batman to Star Wars now part of the legacy, Lord/Miller let loose their reverential and referential humor onto a world that has those qualities built into it. No one else should have made this movie and no one could have done it better.

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As per usual in these blockbuster animated films the voice cast is stacked with stars like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, Will Arnett, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Morgan Freeman, and Will Forte. However, unlike many of these projects, Lord/Miller actually give each famous voice a character suited to their talents and not a single cameo passes by without a major laugh. Thankfully, Lord/Miller never take the easy route to cynically mock their subject matter either, filling the screen with a love for all things Lego including a character who is one of the 80s Lego astronauts that every child of a certain generation owned and even the chin strap is broken in the perfect place. This is a big Hollywood blockbuster made by people who care about the subject matter and know just how to treat it. It’s big, adventurous, hilarious, touching, and makes you want to race out of the theater to buy as many Lego playsets as you can fit in your arms. Balancing all those elements is nearly impossible, but Lord/Miller did it with such ease that they should have a massive hit on their hands and might finally be recognized as two of the most brilliant comedic minds of their generation. Warner already has a Lego Movie sequel in the works, but hopefully Lord and Miller find another project to work on instead. It’s hard to imagine a better Lego movie being made than this, and I’m anxious to see what the next seemingly ridiculous idea that they want to turn into a brilliant comedy is instead.