My Week in Movies: Mar. 25-31

21 Jump Street (2012) If we’re going to get stuck with these kinds of updates/remakes/reboots, at least we can hope to have more like 21 Jump Street 2.0, which not only makes an effort to be a good movie (it succeeds) but also insists on being straight-up crazy. This film is beautifully insane and blissfully vulgar, a pleasant R-rated surprise in a world of play-it-safe PG-13 product. Such insanity leads to some unevenness in both tone and structure (the third act has plenty of thin moments, to be sure, and a couple awkward joke set-ups leave us with dangling, pointless plot threads), but at least it has the courage to try many things – and the talent to succeed in most of them. It’s a genre parody, a meta-riff on remakes, a cute buddy comedy, and, most interestingly, a thoughtful study of high school dynamics. It’s this choice – deciding to use dick jokes and car chases as the framework for an earnest discussion of how scarring teen social life can be – that really makes Jump Street stand out as something special. And just when we get comfortable with the movie’s heart? It starts shooting people in the neck. As a punchline. And it works. Everything about this movie is smart: its script, its direction, its performances… even Channing Tatum, perhaps the biggest surprise of all, who, when pulled away from dopey romances and dopier action flicks, turns out to be a solid actor and a very, very funny guy. Who knew? (Korean Jesus, that’s who.)

John Carter (2012) The Three Stages of John Carter: 1. I hope it’s better than people said. 2. It’s as bad as people said. 3. OH GOD IT’S SO MUCH WORSE THAN PEOPLE SAID. [Alternate joke I also posted to the Twitters and am also copying here instead of putting any effort into writing anything new: It’s like Krull sneezed all over Avatar.]

Godzilla (1998) And yet I like Godzilla ’98. A lot. It’s a goofy lunkhead of a movie, with its questionable comic relief and cornball dialogue and terrible Puff Daddy song. But it’s also a huge heap of fun, a natural extension of Independence Day, with Emmerich/Devlin amping up their brand of broadly painted, audience-friendly spectacle. It’s a monster movie with a sense of humor and, despite its run time, a brisk pace. A side thought: this Godzilla is very much of its time, summing up the 1990s by having nothing to say. Other giant monster movies are about something, anything – nuclear bombs, pollution, 9/11 – but Godzilla ’98, it has no statement to make, no cultural memory to invoke. (Plot points about nuclear testing are presented out of obligation, not political passion.) If the grunge era’s biggest complaint was on having nothing to complain about, then Godzilla ’98 is a distillation of the post-grunge pop era and its embracing that lack of complaint. It has no interest in depth, just in cheap thrills. And while I’ve complained about such non-ambition in other monster flicks, I give Godzilla ’98 a free pass. Go figure.

Room Service (1938) and At the Circus (1939) I had apparently forgotten why I avoid the Marx Brothers’ later works. Following the wildly successful A Night at the Opera and the uneven but still terrific A Day at the Races, these two follow-ups present the beginning of the end for the siblings. You can see the steam running out here, the one-liners getting rough, the plots wearing thin. By adapting a non-Marx Brothers work, Room Service allows for some freshness, but only just, while At the Circus and its return to a tiring formula shows its stars treading water. Between both films, I maybe smiled a few times and chuckled just once – a far cry from the belly laughs found in their earlier works.

It (1927) Despite its status as one of the better-remembered silent comedies, I never bothered before now to get around to see the film that gave the Clara Bow her nickname. And, well, it’s cute more than anything else, a lightweight romcom that doesn’t really care about its so-so plot loaded with standard meet cutes and misunderstandings with the same energy as it uses to make us fall in love with its leading lady. She’s sassy and sweet and sensitive, and it’s easy to be won over by her charms.

The Phantom (1996) The great thing about this movie? It’s about a superhero who loves being a superhero. Billy Zane’s joy in the role, that goofy grin and “gee willikers I’m in tights and I’m jumping off a plane and onto a horse and I’m saving the girl!” attitude, it’s just plain infectious. (Treat Williams gets into the act, too; when his villainous Xander Drax yells “I love this!”, we believe him.) (Oh, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kristy Swanson. Because yes.) SLAM EVIL.

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