22 Jump Street *** (out of five)
Two ongoing jokes throughout the sequel to ‘90s cops-in-high-school reboot (and massive hit) 21 Jump Street are that sequels should be more expensive, repetitive, and slightly less good than the original, and that the relationship between Jonah Hill’s Schmidt and Channing Tatum’s Jenko is, essentially, a love affair masquerading as a buddy partnership. Both (extremely overstretched) gags aren’t nearly as clever as they may have sounded on paper, and both give license to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to at least try to have their cake and eat it too: in the first instance, by delivering a sequel that is more expensive, repetitive, and slightly less good than the first one, and in the second, by making, essentially, one big gay joke under the guise of a buddy-movie satire.
These two quibbles aside, the rest of the flick is much funnier than a lot of what comes out of Hollywood, with a rapid spitfire of jokes-per-minute (even if they don’t all pay off) and energetic visual flair. Schmidt and Jenko are both loveable dorks which helps enormously, but the best laughs of all come from side players Jillian Bell and The Lucas Brothers, all of whom we’re going to see plenty more of.
Less improvisational than the Apatow and Stoller schools, Lord and Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) are making smart movies for dummies, dumb movies for clever people, or something like that. Their formula is working, and 22 Jump Street, while slightly less good than its parent, is still good, and plenty of fun.
The Two Faces of January *** (out of five)
Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel by director Hossein Amini, this old-school, old-fashioned, old-feeling melodramatic thriller has the comfy, cozy vibe of a dog-eared novel discovered on the shelves of a vacation rental, although it pales in comparison to the vastly more thrilling Strangers On A Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the two best Highsmith adaptations. Oscar Isaac plays an American in Athens who becomes caught up in whatever dodgy shenanigans are going on with well-dressed American couple Chester and Colette, played by Viggo Mortensen (in cream and white suits, very “Dickie Greenleaf”) and Kirsten Dunst. As this edgy threesome trip from cafés to restaurants, ruins and roadsides, the plot, inevitably, thickens.
The setting of 1962 allows a thriller without mobile phones or the internet, and it’s amazing just how refreshing that is – especially the sheer joy of not having to deal with any shots of anyone dealing with mobile phones, computer screens and keyboards. But it’s the locations that give the film its most robust flavour. Highsmith loved putting Americans abroad and The Two Faces of January almost plays like a stunning travelogue with a sinister little plot thrown in. That plot isn’t the film’s greatest attribute, but hums along reliably, next to actors, clothes and locations that do the heavy lifting. Fun and disposable.