21 Jump Street

Image_square_webby Susan

2012, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

In case you didn’t know, 21 Jump Street was a TV show created by Stephen J. Cannell in the late 1980s. I never watched it myself, although I know a lot of people who looooved it. I think they probably liked it so much because it featured nice-looking baby-faced actors playing cops who could, theoretically at least, infiltrate high schools and blend in as teenagers while conducting undercover operations. How cool is that!? Anyway, I didn’t discover Johnny Depp until the amazing Edward Scissorhands. Yes, that’s right, in case you’ve been living under a rock or a in a moon cave for the past 25 years or so, Johnny Depp was the heartthrob of a TV cop show before he made the big leap to the silver screen. (See how I resisted temptation to use the phrase “jumped ship” which would have called to mind not only 21 Jump Street, but also his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? You’re welcome!)

The only possible way to pay homage to the 21 Jump Street of 80’s television is to make it a parody, and that can be tricky. A good parody must pay homage to its origin story and also be gut-bustingly funny in a warm-hearted, nostalgic sense without going overboard and insinuating that the original was just plain stupid or lame – even if it might have been. The movie triumphs in that regard; it is not only hilarious, thanks mainly to the two leads, but also true to the intent of the original TV show – good-looking grownup cops getting involved with teenagers. (If that wasn’t the original intent of the TV show, I don’t care because I never watched it, as I mentioned already.)

So, getting on with the review… To paraphrase a description of the old TV show: “21 Jump Street is the address of the headquarters for a squad of police officers who specialize in investigations relating to young people. Each of the Jump St. personnel was selected for their ability to pass for high school students, allowing them to operate undercover in areas where it is difficult for regular police officers to blend in unnoticed.” That’s pretty much the same synopsis for the movie, except that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play two police officers who sort of… “complete” each other. Hill was a hopeless nerd and Tatum was a popular dumb jock from the same high school; they discover each other again at the police academy and help each other graduate to become inept police officers on bicycles. Not content with such a lame assignment, they are given a chance to prove themselves when transferred to the Jump Street squad. Hilarity ensues as they revert to their old teenage personas of nerd and popular jock but their undercover identities have them switched; Hill must play the popular guy and Tatum must be the brainy one.

Confused by the social cliques, attire, language, sensibilities, and just about everything having to do with teenagerness of current times, the two cops must find a way to work together to take down a drug ring operating out of the high school before its illicit poison can spread through the city and beyond. Along the way they will become a little too immersed in their fictional roles as teenagers.

Tatum and Hill are both superb in their respective roles, the supporting cast is excellent, the script is sharp and witty, the action sequences are both over the top spectacular and spectacularly uproarious. There is plenty here to help fans fondly remember the old TV show but for those who never watched it – like me – this movie stands on its own, never faltering as it hurtles its way to an explosive climax with a few welcome surprises along the way.

In a word, it’s FUNNY. Go see it.

Three boxes of popcornRating: Triple Serving

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Moneyball

by CosmicTwin3

2011 Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

“It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball,” says Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in this latest sports movie. Really? What’s so romantic about baseball? From my perspective, having enjoyed my fair share of T-ball and Little League seasons, it’s a fairly slow-paced, usually long game that inspires grown men to spout obscure statistics and get practically misty-eyed talking about legendary players. Isn’t it a kids’ game that grown-ups have turned into a multi-billion dollar business? Well… sort of, but maybe it’s also more than that.

Inspired by the book about the real Billy Beane and actual events in 2002-2003, Moneyball tells the story of how one team’s General Manager (the GM for those who are more familiar with professional sports than I am) changed the game of baseball forever by ignoring conventional wisdom about how to choose players to assemble a winning Major League Baseball team. The problem, apparently, has to do with the ability to afford players with the right combinations of certain outstanding skills.  A team such as the Oakland A’s, with a meager budget for player salaries, has practically no hope of competing with a lavishly funded team such as the New York Yankees. Rich teams dominate every season and go to the World Series year after year. Hence the entire title of the book by Michael Lewis: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

In order to level the playing field, so to speak, someone, somehow must start to figure out how to put together a winning team on a tiny budget. Billy Beane stumbles upon fresh-faced, recent Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) with a degree in economics and a deep abiding love of baseball who seems to have the magic formula for just such a predicament. With Peter’s help and computer whiz-kid number crunching abilities, Billy starts acquiring players in a way that antagonizes more than one or two long-time A’s talent scouts, not to mention the team’s coach (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a supporting role).

Will this new method of team-building prove to be the right course, or will Billy be ridiculed out of a job? An added dimension to an already intriguing story is that Billy Beane gave up a full scholarship to Stanford University to play baseball in the Major Leagues. Recruited for his good looks and amazing abilities to hit, throw, run, and whatever else is required to be a baseball superstar, no one can adequately explain why Billy’s career as a professional player never really took off. Still craving the “wins,” Billy as a GM is still devoted to the game and probably has a unique insight into why Peter’s team-building choices could really work.

I’ve seen many sports-themed movies over the years, many about baseball: Mr. Baseball, The Natural, Angels in the Outfield, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Major League, The Rookie, and A League of Their Own, to name a few. I remember enjoying Field of Dreams, but not quite understanding the mysticism of it. Some of the better “sports-as-metaphor” non-baseball movies that I’ve enjoyed include The Mighty Ducks, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Bend it Like Beckham, Invictus, The Blind Side, etc. Moneyball is as good as any of these.

I’m not especially keen on any movie just because it involves sports, but I do like really good movies. Moneyball is a really good movie. It forgoes the mysticism of why baseball matters so much to so many fans and gives insight into what it’s really like to be a professional player and how the business side of the game takes a toll on the mind as well as the body. Surprisingly, perhaps, this film deftly gets to the heart of the matter by putting emotions front and center in a story about a subject that is dominated by statistics. At the very least, I’m starting to understand why some people find it “hard not to get romantic about baseball.” Hill was superb as the baseball-loving genius computer geek and (forgive me for using another sports metaphor here, but it actually is appropriate) Pitt hit it out of the park in his performance as athlete turned GM searching for a way to achieve the ultimate goal: winning the last game of the season.

Cosmic Twins Popcorn Rating: Full Bucket