Zootopia Review: Born to be Mild


Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnson

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons

zootopia-movie-poster


Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Review: Zootopia

Ride Along 2 Audio Review: Ice-cold Hart


Director: Tim Story

Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi

Stars: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong

ridealong


Release date: February 18th, 2016 

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.

22 Jump Street Review – Second Shot


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare


Release date: June 6th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5 

Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.

Worst part: Some of the wink-and-nudge gags.

Sequels – we love to hate some of them, and hate to love others. The sequel is undoubtedly the most complained-about trope in Hollywood’s bag of tricks. Extending franchises and profit margins, additional instalments are designed to market big-name brands and draw larger audiences to the theatre. However, overcoming this manipulation of brand-name products, the new, gag-fuelled 21 Jump Street franchise has propelled itself above the competition. Continuing this year’s string of ambitious and alluring comedies, 22 Jump Street tickles audiences and studio bean-counters in the right places.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.

The 2012 original, based on the kitsch 1980s TV series of the same name, was one of that year’s biggest surprises. Busting out of the gate, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) were given permission to tackle anything Hollywood was willing to give them. Taking on bizarre concepts, these two geniuses have leant their skills to two features in 2014. Their second release, though not as charming or consistent as the first, is still a significant step above most big-budget farces. In the original, our lead characters, after graduating from the police academy, had to go back to high school to infiltrate drug dens and contrasting cliques. Picking up where they left off, Lord and Miller’s latest creation places everything and everyone in the firing line. This time around, our favourite crime-crippling and quirk-fuelled cops, Schmit (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), feel at home in the city they protect. Reinstated to police duty, this partnership is obsessed with making a name for itself. However, their egos nosedive when they’re assigned to follow notorious drug kingpin Ghost (Peter Stormare). After letting Ghost escape their clutches, Schmit and Jenko are thrown to the wolves once again. Conveniently, their ass-kicking unit has moved across the street to, you guess it, 22 Jump Street. Lectured by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), our two rag-tag cops are ordered to do everything they did the first time around to track down a synthetic drug called “WHYPHY”. Schmit and Jenko, known to play by their own rules, must face their toughest assignment yet: fitting in at college.

Spring Break!

With 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller were given permission to do anything they wanted. Surprisingly, and efficiently, these joined-at-the-hip filmmakers are retreading old ground. To an outsider reading this review, this might seem tiresome and repulsive. However, this buddy-cop movie fights the biggest villain of all – sequelitis. Lord and Miller, inspired by influential action-comedies and their previous efforts, successfully grapple this sequel’s meta aspects. For the most part, 22 Jumps Street‘s wink-and-nudge gags are refreshing and inventive. From the opening chief-busts-some-balls scene, in which Nick Offerman’s character compares Schmit and Jenko’s new assignment to this instalment’s premise, the movie reflectively takes a stab at its existence, Hill and Tatum’s star power, the budget, and the buddy-cop genre. Not to be outdone, the star-laden cameos, wily plot-twists, and kinetic closing credits sequence bolster this frantic effort. In fact, I dare say this franchise is the worthy successor to the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours series. However, coming close to breaking the fourth wall, some gags fall flatter than Tatum’s ab-zone. Some jokes, pointing out this sequel’s similarities to the original, hammer home the already overbearing message. On top of the movie’s comedic motifs, this sequel’s quaint subplots occasionally belabour the point. With Schmit falling for art student Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko forming a bromance with party-hungry frat-boy Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son), some sequences violently shift the movie’s tone from boisterous, to poignant, then to dour. But hey, as happy-go-lucky cinema-goers, you have a choice between this or A Million Ways to Die in the West (make the right choice, people!). Thankfully, unlike most comedy sequels, 22 Jump Street‘s reoccurring gags work wonders for its hearty subtext. Laughing at its own stupidity, the car chases, wacky villains, and hormone-fuelled settings are welcome ingredients in this potent concoction.

“We Jump Street, and we ’bout to jump in yo ass.” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 22 Jump Street).

Ice Cube.

Ice Cube.

Embracing the college lifestyle, 22 Jump Street even skewers its more impressionistic and idiosyncratic conceits. Hurling poetry slams, co-ed bathrooms, and Spring Break into the mix, Schmit and Jenko’s actions and reactions are equally charming. Beyond Hill’s improvised quips and Tatum’s significant physical presence, credit goes to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman for developing this instalment’s pop-culture-savvy and likeable sense of humour. Conquering modern studio-driven comedy’s foibles, this team’s think-outside-the-box technique pays off. In addition, Lord and Miller’s dynamic visual style keeps the audience entertained throughout its appropriate 112-minute run-time. Utilising valuable camera, editing, and sound design tricks, the duo’s enthusiastic and light-hearted direction propels us through the tried-and-true story structure. Some moments, including Schmit and jenko’s preposterous drug-related freak-out, test their unbridled split-screen techniques. Comparing Schmit’s internal struggle to Jenko’s unbridled optimism, this colour-laden sequence delivers major laughs. Of course, Bouncing off their acting strengths and weaknesses, this series would crumble without Hill and Tatum’s immeasurable chemistry. Establishing a polar-opposites-type connection, these leading men deliver charismatic and modest turns in larger-than-life roles. Lending his writing and acting talents to this series, Hill’s quick-witted personality and distinctive physical features elevate his captivating turn. Coming off his second Oscar nomination, this A-lister works well with anyone and anything. Tatum, bolstering his career with the original and Magic Mike, steals the show as the bumbling jock. Establishing his parkour skills and good looks, some scenes play like Tatum’s superhero-saga audition reel.

Reasonably, everyone expected the original and its sequel to bomb spectacularly for different reasons. Judging by how these series’ normally play out, a sorrowful outcome was expected for Lord, Miller, Hill, and Tatum’s passion project. However, emphatically so, this series has overcome incredible odds to out-class and out-gun the competition. Thanks to its meta-narrative, kooky action sequences, and talented lead actors, 22 Jump Street, despite being a highly-anticipated sequel, is one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A hysterical and reflexive comedy sequel. 

2 Guns Review – Straight Shot


Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Writers: Blake Masters (screenplay), Blake Masters (graphic novel)

Stars: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton


Release date: August 2nd, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, Foresight Unlimited, TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Washington and Wahlberg’s chemistry.

Worst part: The excessive number of characters.

Have you ever heard the saying: “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Unfortunately, despite being a convincing resolution, it’s still exceedingly tempting to do so. However, something we could be so brashly judging may just catch us by surprise if we delved deeper. With a poster featuring two big-name actors, guns, helicopters, and flaming currency, it’s believable that 2 Guns could’ve turned out to be a forgettable, by-the-numbers action flick. Thankfully, it provides many effective kills and thrills along the way.

Denzel Washington & Mark Wahlberg.

Elevated by an enthusiastic cast, ingenious action sequences, and crackling dialogue, 2 Guns may become 2013’s biggest surprise hit. In a year filled with sci-fi blockbusters, comic-book extravaganzas, and ultra-popular ensemble comedies, a standalone action-comedy like this is infinitely refreshing. It may not bring the buddy-cop genre back into the spotlight, but it’s an enjoyable example of what these movies can accomplish with the right resources. Similarly to our plucky heroes, this movie, unfortunately, may be overlooked in favour of significant financial rewards elsewhere. In typical action-comedy fashion, slo-mo, cheesy one-liners, and masculine characters kick-start the narrative. Burning down a diner to cover their infamous tracks, Michael ‘Stig’ Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) and Robert ‘Bobby’ Trench (Denzel Washington) believe they have set up the ultimate heist for the bank across the street. After getting close to grimy Mexican mobster Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), the wisecracking duo pull off the robbery with seemingly flawless execution. However, their antics reel them into the CIA, DEA, and NCIS’ lines of fire. After each discovering their true identities and allegiances, Stig and Bobby must reluctantly work together to discover who their dangerous $43 million haul belongs to, while treading lightly to avoid Naval Intelligence commanding officer Harold Quince (James Marsden), DEA handler Deb (Paula Patton), and vicious badass Earl (Bill Paxton).

Paula Patton.

Since the late 80s and early 90s, buddy-cop movies and Quentin Tarantino knock-offs have come thick and fast. Aiming to be as memorable and entertaining as their influences, many crime-capers fail to deliver the emotional depth and visceral sensations required. Screenwriter Blake Masters, adapting Steven Grant’s Boom! Studios comic book, has delivered an appropriate and engaging mix of character development and wittily bombastic comedy. From the opening sequence, the movie delves into this convoluted plot and attempts to unravel its many intriguing strands. Here, the cards are dealt and played at opportune moments to keep audiences engaged. In this topsy-turvy narrative, our characters come across multiple twists and turns that throw them, and the audience, for a loop. In spite of its charms, the story wears out its welcome by the end of the second act. By then, too many characters, factions, and codes of honour have been set up and moved around the movie’s hostile environment. Despite the engaging personalities, each motivation and betrayal becomes increasingly silly and uninteresting. Also, despite its lightheartedness, 2 Guns takes an aggressive stab at government agencies. Depicting the CIA to be as despicable as the Galactic Empire, the movie’s message awkwardly fits into this otherwise diverting experience. Here, director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) takes leaves out of many books. Fans of men-on-a-mission movies like The Losers and The A-Team will savour 2 Guns‘ wavering logic and overt masculinity. Kormakur is also immensely infatuated with, and borrows ideas from, seminal action-comedies like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours. Fortunately, the movie sizzles whenever the dialogue flows. Similarly to William Monahan and David Mamet’s material, each expletive-filled insult and intriguing anecdote efficiently sums up each scene’s value. Thanks to the kinetic rat-a-tat dialogue on display, lines like: “you never heard the saying: “don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in 3 counties”?” become spun gold.

“You never heard the saying: “never rob a bank across from a diner with the best donuts in three counties?”” (Bobby (Denzel Washington), 2 Guns).

Bill Paxton.

Despite the third act’s excessive reliance on action set-pieces and stupefying plot-twists, the movie assuredly maintains an appropriate tone and solid pacing. Throughout this amusing buddy-cop movie, Kormakur throws everything he can at the screen. If you didn’t know this was a comic book movie, the slo-mo, tough-guy posturing, and distinctive character types will immediately fill you in on the details. Thanks to the punchy action sequences, 2 Guns adds up to the sum of its parts. Each set-piece ratchets up the much-needed tension and excitement. Before the last bullet is fired, Kormakur increasingly ups the ante with each gun-fight, explosion, brawl, car crash, and Mexican stand-off. In particular, the Point Break-esque bank heist sequence is enjoyable and climactic. Within this scene, the anticipation builds as one obstacle after another is encountered and conquered. Also, the car chase, in which Stig and Bobby frantically wrestle for control over one another, is pulsating and amusing. When it comes to the colourful and violent characters, the cast elevates this sorely conventional material. Like Tarantino’s array of seductive yet scummy anti-heroes, 2 Guns‘ characters sport many distinctive aesthetic and internal qualities. Definitively, the movie’s comic book-like cartoonishness comes from its wild personalities and frenetic stylishness. Washington’s hardened DEA agent role doesn’t stretch the actor’s immense talents, but his energetic screen presence still elevates the character. He brings his own pizzazz and charm to the role – sporting gold teeth, funky fedoras and a can-do attitude. Similarly, Wahlberg’s charisma boosts his been-there-done-that role. His character’s foul-mouthed/trigger finger persona provides many big laughs. Patton is stranded in a ball-busting (in more ways than one) yet two-dimensional role, and Paxton is enjoyably slimy as the amoral freewheeling villain.

From the snappy, insult-fuelled dialogue to the wacky action sequences, 2 Guns is significantly more intelligible and entertaining than exploitation-king Robert Rodriguez’ recent efforts. Washington and Wahlberg develop a substantial amount of chemistry despite the conventional material. There is one thing I can confirm without spoilers: there are way more than two guns in 2 Guns.

Verdict: A hilarious, enjoyable yet convoluted action-comedy.