22 JUMP STREET. I find it hard to believe two years and change have passed since 21 Jump Street pleasantly surprised me with its quick-wittedness, scathingly foul mouth and flashes of emotional authenticity. It left me hopeful that something as unlikely as an '80s cop show reboot might herald a positive change in the overall quality of Hollywood comedies. Time has done little to support that hope, unfortunately, but at least there is 22 Jump Street, that rare sequel that manages to outdo the original.
I should warn you in the same breath that 22 thrives on the same witty crassness that, for me, made 21 work. So if it didn't work for you the first time around, don't expect anything about this one to change your mind.
After an opening-sequence attempt at a different style of undercover police work fails spectacularly, officers Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) find themselves back on Jump Street, under the withering gaze of Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). The headquarters have moved across the street since their last assignment, naturally. And an increased budget has provided them with a high-tech command center, lots of sweet new gadgets and, as he is quick to point out, a big-ass raise for the captain.
The scenario stays the same this time out: Jenko and Schmidt are to go undercover as college students, locate the source of a new designer drug called Whyphy and solve the drug-related death of a student. Jenko fits in immediately in the football and fraternity scene. Schmidt struggles in his absence until he befriends a beautiful art major (Amber Stevens). Separation strains the partnership, with Jenko drawn steadily toward the world of potential scholarships and non-stop partying by new soul mate/teammate Zook (Wyatt Russell).
As in 21, the plot's not really the thing. Actually, the fact that it hews so closely to the structure of the first one provides opportunities for a slew of self-referential humor, and almost all of it works. Somehow, the filmmakers have managed to make recycled material the source of a movie-length joke. This enables them to expand and deepen the irony and post-modernism of the first installment with crazy abandon. The result is a movie that retains its predecessor's tone and cadence, but produces more laughs per minute, with an even greater degree of awareness and a harder edge.
From a studio's perspective, R-rated comedies can be a risky proposition: That's a whole lot of tickets kids can't buy. I like the fact that movies like this one — movies that refuse to tone down the jokes, that rely on mature humor — are finding their way into the light of day. Obviously this isn't a grand cinematic achievement for the ages, but as it's been proven time and again, movie comedy is a difficult, unforgiving medium. And in that regard, 22 Jump Street is a resounding success. R. 112m.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. Having gone into this one uninitiated, I had no expectations. Well, I expected to see Vikings flying around on dragons, and I did. More to the point, I was pleasantly surprised by the darkness and honesty of the story, the quality of the casting and the depth and detail of the visuals. I've been disappointed by animated movies lately, so this was doubly enjoyable.
Some time after the events of How to Train Your Dragon, heroic young Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) explores the world beyond the island of Berk, actively avoiding the fact that his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) plans to anoint him as the clan's next chief. In his travels he discovers first a band of rogue dragon-catchers, then an island dragon sanctuary tended by his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), long thought dead. This leads in turn to a conflict with a scarred and scary seafarer named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who has plans for vengeance and total dragon domination.
Unlike most major animated releases, Dragon 2 boasts a cast of stars who appear to have been selected for their talent as vocal actors, rather than their marquee status. The plot takes us into some hard, dark places, and has valuable things to say about pain, commitment and growing up. The action sequences are huge and immersive, each frame filled with sometimes overwhelming detail. The movie does what I always hope animation will: It creates a richly envisioned, impossible other world that we get to live in for a while. And it accomplishes this with style, a sense of humor and an appropriate amount of gravity. PG. 102m.
— John J. Bennett
JERSEY BOYS. Based on the true story of falsetto legend Frankie Valli, Clint Eastwood's film version of the Broadway hit follows the rise of the neighborhood mooks who become The Four Seasons. R. 134m.
THE ROVER. Guy Pearce goes low-key Mad Max, dragging Robert Pattinson all over the post-apocalyptic outback in search of a stolen car. R. 102m.
THINK LIKE A MAN TOO. Bachelor and bachelorette party shenanigans in Vegas with Michael Ealy, Gabrielle Union and motor-mouth Kevin Hart. R. 100m.
CHEF. Jon Favreau stars in this well done food-truck road movie that cuts through professional kitchen bravado to real humanity and warmth. With Robert Downey Jr. and John Leguizamo. Bring napkins. R. 115m.
EDGE OF TOMORROW. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt as soldiers battling aliens in a post-apocalyptic Groundhog Day loop. Clever, slick and utterly forgettable. PG13. 113m.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Beat the rush and start crying now. Adapted from John Green's novel with excellent performances from Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as the young, star-crossed lovers. PG13. 126m.
GODZILLA. The big guy returns with puny, human co-stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Ken Watanabe. The effects impress, but there's too much going on to focus on the lizard and its destructive glory. PG13. 123m.
IDA. A young woman about to become a nun delves into her true identity and her family's history during the Holocaust. PG13. 80m.
MALEFICENT. An atmospheric, good-looking fantasy with a sharpened Angelina Jolie as the fairytale party crasher from Sleeping Beauty. Heavy on CGI, light on character and not quite scary enough. PG. 98m.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. And none of them live up to the MacFarlane brand or the rest of the top-shelf cast (Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris) in this Western comedy. R. 116m.
NEIGHBORS. Suburban parents (Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen) go to war with the frat next door and their oft-shirtless prankster leader (Zac Efron) in this crude but effective comedy R. 97m.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The mutants go time traveling to save the world. Pacing and exposition are rocky, but the action and the cast make an enjoyable distraction. PG13. 131m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill