Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
I find it difficult to remember a time that I was as gobsmacked by a comedy as I was by 21 Jump Street. It represented all of the things no one wanted in a film: a reboot of an '80s television show, another buddy cop send-up, and Channing Tatum doing comedy. So what a surprise it was when the film turned out to be such a pleasant surprise — a big studio comedy so blissfully self-aware and meta, but also downright funny. It took all the worries I had about reboots, television adaptations, and Tatums, and confronted them with such an subversive kick in the pants, becoming the standout comedy of 2012. A surprising marvel risen out of such bottom barrel expectations. But now the follow-up, 22 Jump Street, has a whole new set of worries to address, and the film wastes no time in bringing that same self-deprecating hilarity to the subject of sequels. And it suceeds… for the most part.
In its own existential way, 22 Jump Street is really a sequel about sequels. It unhooks all the underpinnings of second films and mocks the big studio cynicism that floats over any big-budget follow-up to a successful property, reconfiguring the notion into a farcical blend of self-mockery. As Nick Offerman's police chief character lays out in thick slabs of meta exposition, the Jump Street reboot was a surprise success, so the department now has double the budget for the follow-up program that sees Detectives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) infiltrating a college campus to “do the same thing” they did before... except it probably won’t be as successful and people won’t like it as much. Get it? How can you not?
That thread of meta humor is woven through the entire film, and 22 Jump Street doesn't feel as much as a follow-up to the first Jump Street film but a full-on parody of it. And while calling something a parody of itself is usually a pejorative remark, here it's the clear intention. The film is several grades sillier than its predecessor, and is nothing short of a live-action cartoon. Really, it's just as effervescent and spastic as writer/directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller's last feature, The Lego Movie. 22 Jump Street isn't just on the nose, it is the nose. And if that sort of humor rankles you, there won't be much for you to enjoy in 22 Jump Street. But for those of us with a high tolerance for the ridiculous — for instance, an early suspect in the drug case literally has a tattoo of a red herring — then there's a lot to like in this sequel.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There’s a lovely lack of logic coursing through the film, and its frequently and riotously funny. Tatum is transitioning into quite the physical comedian, and Hill’s vulnerable Schmidt adds some nice emotional beats to a film that's wildly unconcerned with anything approaching reality. Ice Cube’s Capt. Dickson also gets way more to do this time around, giving the film some of its biggest laughs. The whole thing is infused with such unbridled creative energy, thanks to Lord and Miller, but the film also gets lost in its own narrative aspirations.
So many of the narrative beats are the same as those in 21, but inverted and packaged with a supplementary wink and nod at this mimicry. Oddly, the film feels simultaneously ambitious and rote all at the same time. Here’s a film trying its best to subvert the notion of sequels, but falls right into the trap it spends so much time lampooning. Much of the time watching the film is spent waiting for the other boot to drop, but it never really does. The set-up and the punchline of the film’s central gag is the same: we did it same thing again. Isn’t that funny? Well, yeah, sure, but only partially, because we already saw it last time.
It's hard to criticize 22 Jump Street for not quite reaching its narrative ambitions when it's so often side-splitingly funny despite them. Yeah, its meta humor doesn't work 100 percent of the time, but when it does, it's hilarious. The sequel is so remarkably odd and interesting with its approach to crafting a follow-up that we're excited to see what comes next from the series. I hear there's a Laotian mega-church being built right across the way at 23 Jump Street.
There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.