The Reel Deal
21 JUMP STREET, CASA DE MI PADRE, & JOHN CARTER
Quick Takes on Three Films
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
21 JUMP STREET:
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5
I’m surprised to report that the movie adaptation of 21 Jump Street pulls off the unimaginable: they take a dated, mediocre tv show from the 80s, mostly remembered for being where Johnny Depp got his start, and turn it into a raucous, no-holds-barred meta-comedy that is self-aware without being too annoying about it, and, through it all, funnier than it has any right to be.
This film could have so easily fallen into the traps that this year’s This Means War fell into. With this kind of a comedic genre-mishmash, pitfalls are everywhere–it could have been too much in any direction, or in all directions. Somehow, it isn’t. It’s just enough of its influences, and just enough of its own self, to make it work as a comedy in its own right, and as a commentary on the genres its both spoofing and wanting to be a part of. Even in just the basics of adapting source material in the first place, it somehow makes all the right moves. In a completely different way, it does what J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek did: it creates its own universe, which is completely different from the universe of the original tv series, while still incorporating and staying true that original universe–not an easy feat. As I say, it’s really odd it worked so well, and no one person can be credited with this win: it belongs to the audacity of both directors (Phil Lord and Chris Miller), the witty screenplay concocted by Michael Bacall, the surprising chemistry of the dynamic duo that carry the film (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum), and the great performances by much of the supporting cast (including some perfectly placed cameos) that carry the film that extra mile across the finish line.
Watching 21 Jump Street, I’ll admit that I had a great time; yet, I will offer only tentative, tepid applause for one big reason. Though the gimmick worked fairly well–turning a tv show few remembered (except as Depp’s debut) into a surprisingly funny and self-aware comedy–I hope the critical praise being heaped upon 21 Jump Street (a bit too much praise if you ask me) doesn’t give the Hollywood suits carte blanche to keep remaking old movies and tv shows into new movies by adding big budgets and the usual Hollywood bells and whistles. It worked well-enough this time, Hollywood, but let us not forget the countless other times it hasn’t worked at all. We all know it works far less often than it doesn’t. So please, I beg of you, don’t go scouring old TV Guides from the ’80s looking for little-remembered shows to adapt to the big screen. We really don’t need a Small Wonder movie. Seriously, I promise you, we don’t.
CASA DE MI PADRE:
Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Sometimes I wish I could sit in on the meetings where producers pitch Will Ferrell movies. Doesn’t it seem like every Ferrell film pitch is just a game of Mad Libs? It always starts with this sentence pitch, with different words filling in the blanks: “Imagine Will Ferrell as a(n) ___ (adjective)___ ___ (noun) ___ ___(verb) ___ing ___ (noun)___ __(prepositional phrases)__.”
Imagine Will Ferrell as a white trash racecar driver thanking baby Jesus during grace at the dinner table.
Imagine Will Ferrell as a porn-stached 70s anchorman playing flute in a Jazz lounge to win over his female co-anchor.
Imagine Will Ferrell as a sex-crazed iceskater performing a routine in a same-sex skating pair with Napoleon Dynamite.
Imagine Will Ferrell as an afro-ed 70s one-hit-wonder buying a basketball team with the hopes of joining the NBA.
I’ve just pitched Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro.
Now imagine Will Ferrell as a romantic yet virginal ranchero speaking only Spanish for 88 minutes in a parody of a Mexican telenovela. That is the gist of his new film Casa de mi Padre.
One thing that is so damn annoying is that all these premises end up working for the most part, including the one for his newest film. Literally, all you have to do is throw Will Ferrell into almost any situation, and he pulls it off. That’s the sign of a great comedic talent. True, his comedies are rarely the greatest movies in the world, but I’ve never left a Will Ferrell movie and said, “Wow, that wasn’t funny at all.” (Note: I purposefully skipped Land of the Lost.)
With Casa de mi Padre, as usual, the premise has worn pretty thin by the end, even though the movie is only 88 minutes in length, but I admittedly left the theater without complaint, laughing and shaking my head in odd disbelief as I exited. It’s almost as though the Will Ferrell Mad Libs isn’t even concocted by the pitch team, but a game Ferrell plays with himself, trying to come up with increasingly weirder premises, movies that will continually be more difficult for him to pull off. It’s as though he’s challenging himself to fail at making any idea funny. So far he hasn’t failed, though I will admit that each new film fills me with less and less excitement, and packs a weaker and weaker punch.
Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Disney’s new wannabe-epic John Carter is strange mix of its recent predecessors: movies as diverse as Avatar, Cowboy & Aliens and Mars Needs Moms. Let’s call it Mars Needs Cowboy Avatars. In addition to feeling like a bit of an Avatar rehash, it also, at various times, evokes the worlds of early 20th century pulp novels, conjures up memories of certain episodes from the various Star Trek series, and revives the feel of great and awful and great-awful b-movies of the ’70s. It’s all these things thrown in a blender. But I suppose what I should say is not that it is all these things, but that all these things spawned from it. In fact, few space stories can’t somehow be traced back to some modicum John Carter of Mars influence. This story of Edgar Rice Burroughs’, written 100 years ago, was a sci-fi staple for the century; and though its status as a major work may have waned (for better or worse), the ripples of its influence will always be felt. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles certainly wouldn’t exist without John Carter of Mars. And what was Star Wars if not Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress housed in a universe not so dissimilar to that in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books? Lucas even acknowledged this debt to both Kurosawa and Burroughs many times.
Based on the Earth and Mars adventures of Burroughs’ second most famous creation (after Tarzan), the film tells a familiar tale of an American in space, saving the day for a species who apparently couldn’t otherwise do it for themselves. Leaving the problematic aspects of that egocentric colonial premise aside, the story is classic, timeless and familiar. In fact, it’s odd that this is the first major film production of Burroughs’ novel (it really took 100 years?), and it’s disappointing that the end result isn’t better than this is.
That said, the problem was a fairly unavoidable one. For it isn’t that any aspect of the film is so terrible, but that little is great, memorable or new. John Carter of Mars may be the original, but now it feels late to the table. A film like Avatar, which has its own set of problems surely, still manages to do this whole schtick much more effectively. Of course, next to the countless imitators, this John Carter still manages to find itself somewhere in the middle of the pack of space-related epics. But even though it may be better than last year’s Cowboys and Aliens, is that really saying much?
21 Jump Street is a film directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, and based on the tv show of the same name. It stars Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Dave Franco. A pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.
Casa de mi Padre is a film directed by Matt Piedmont, and written by Andrew Steele. It stars Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Scheming on a way to save their father’s ranch, the Alvarez brothers find themselves in a war with Mexico’s most feared drug lord.
John Carter is a film directed by Andrew Stanton, written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, and based upon the Edgar Rice Burroughs book A Princess of Mars. It stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Defoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds. Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Film Still from 21 Jump Street, Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures