The Films of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
21 Jump Street (March 27/12)
Based on the 1980s television show, 21 Jump Street follows two inept cops (Jonah Hill's Schmidt and Channing Tatum's Jenko) as they're sent undercover into a local high school to find and arrest an up-and-coming drug dealer. There's little doubt that 21 Jump Street gets off to a tremendously promising start, as filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller have infused the proceedings with a briskly-paced and pervasively lighthearted feel that proves impossible to resist. The movie's affable atmosphere is undoubtedly heightened by the efforts of its stars, with Hill and Tatum's easygoing, engaging work mirrored by an eclectic supporting cast that includes, among others, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Chris Parnell, and Nick Offerman. It's only as time progresses that Michael Bacall's decidedly erratic screenplay becomes more and more problematic, as the narrative is increasingly dominated by ineffective, pointless sequences that wreak havoc on the movie's momentum. (And it doesn't help, either, that large chunks of the film have been improvised wholesale by the various actors, which only exacerbates the film's excessively slapdash feel.) The growing emphasis on eye-rollingly sentimental elements (eg Schmidt and Jenko's falling out, the impending revelation that Schmidt and Jenko are cops, etc, etc) diminishes the strength of the film's few genuinely amusing sequences, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that 21 Jump Street fizzles out rather demonstrably in the build up to its overlong and anticlimactic action-oriented finale - which ultimately confirms the movie's place as yet another disappointingly misguided reboot of an '80s property.
The Lego Movie
Set entirely in a world dominated by Lego toys, The Lego Movie follows construction worker Emmet (Chris Pratt) as he and a spunky rebel (Elizabeth Banks' Wyldstyle) attempt to take down a megalomaniacal villain named Lord Business (Will Ferrell). It's clear immediately that The Lego Movie isn't looking to establish itself as just another big-budget, 3-D blockbuster, as the movie, directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, boasts a creative and almost insanely off-the-wall sensibility that separates it from most contemporary animated fare. And although it's impossible to entirely shake the feeling that the movie is merely a product designed to sell toys, The Lego Movie benefits substantially from a compulsively watchable first half that's rife with stellar sequences and engaging performances. (Will Arnett's often hilarious turn as Batman stands as an obvious highlight, while Liam Neeson delivers a typically sturdy performance as the movie's villain.) It's just as clear, however, that the movie's relentlessly frenetic vibe grows more and more exhausting as time progresses, with the lack of downtime ensuring that The Lego Movie wears out its welcome to an increasingly demonstrable degree - as there's a lack of substance and character development here that compounds the film's assault-on-the-senses atmosphere. (And it doesn't help, either, that the movie's ultimate message is simplistic and by the numbers.) The end result is a sporadically engaging yet hopelessly broad effort that's obviously been geared towards small children, and one can't help but wish that Lord and Miller had infused the proceedings with just a small amount of earnestness and heart.
22 Jump Street (June 12/14)
A seriously underwhelming sequel, 22 Jump Street follows Jonah Hill's Schmidt and Channing Tatum's Jenko as they head back to college to track down and arrest a notorious drug dealer - with the film detailing the various problems that crop up for the increasingly incompatible twosome along the way. Given that it opens with a "last time on 21 Jump Street" prologue, 22 Jump Street has clearly been designed to operate as both a run-of-the-mill sequel and a spoof of sequels - with filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, working from Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman's script, infusing the proceedings with a relentlessly self-referential feel that proves disastrous right from the get-go. The pervasively tongue-in-cheek atmosphere prevents the viewer from working up an ounce of interest in or enthusiasm for the protagonists' continuing exploits, and it doesn't help, either, that the storyline has been suffused with a whole host of familiar, eye-rollingly hackneyed elements - with the best and most infuriating example of this the ongoing emphasis on Schmidt and Jenko's marriage-like squabbles. (There is, for instance, a hopelessly tedious sequence in which the characters visit a couples therapist.) The uninvolving narrative, which even includes a fake breakup between the heroes, is sporadically alleviated by laugh-out-loud funny bits of comedic silliness, although it's interesting to note that few of the movie's chuckles come courtesy of the stars' efforts - as both Hill and Tatum deliver lazy, uninspired performances that rely far too heavily on their well-established personas. By the time the interminable, endless action-oriented climax rolls around, 22 Jump Street has confirmed its place as a rather worthless followup that makes the lackluster original look polished and captivating by comparison.