"22 Jump Street" (R) ** stars (out of four)
If only the filmmakers would have put as much inspiration into the main plot of the cleverly titled "22 Jump Street" as they did the film's hilarious end credits sequence, this sequel to the 2012 Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum detective buddy comedy would have been firing on all cylinders.
Instead, "22" is a virtual repeat of "21 Jump Street," based on the 1980s TV series starring Johnny Depp – minus, of course, a clever cameo by Depp's Officer Tom Hansen, who (spoiler alert if you're a couple years behind on your movies) was surprisingly snuffed out at the end of the first film. As promised by Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) at the end of the first film, undercover detectives Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are sent to infiltrate and stop a synthetic drug ring in a local college (the first time was a high school) before a mysterious dealer can start distributing it nationwide.
If your expectation levels are high for "22 Jump Street" following the surprisingly effective original, prepare to be disappointed. It's one thing for a TV show to repeat their motions on a new case on a week-to-week basis, but for moviegoers forking over hard-earned dollars who are expecting something fresh and original, the plot will feel way too familiar. In some ways, "22 Jump Street" somewhat acts in reverse of the original, as Jenko – a jock who spurned the nerdy Schmidt in high school – is lulled back into his old persona when he finds a kindred spirit in a fellow football player in college. Schmidt's subplot is somewhat funnier as he finds romance on campus while combing through the art student scene, setting up one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
While Hill and Tatum are no doubt a winning combination, the funniest actor in "22 Jump Street" by far is Ice Cube, whose trademark, ticked-off scowl and "don't (blank) with me" attitude easily score the biggest laughs. It'll be interesting to see where the franchise goes from here; as the end credits suggest, the possibilities are endless. Let's just hope directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller take the mojo that fueled the hilarity of the end credits with them for the next ride.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" (PG) ***1/2 (out of four)
Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless, are all grown up in "How to Train Your Dragon 2," a terrific sequel that may not have quite the heart of the 2010 original, but earns high points for its willingness to take risks and venture into darker territory as the protagonists face a ruthless enemy.
Jay Baruchel voices Hiccup, who is being groomed by his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) to someday take his place as chief of their Viking tribe on the island of Berk. But before he can start training in earnest, Hiccup faces a couple of huge dilemmas: revelations about his mother (Cate Blanchett) he thought his entire life to be dead; and the plans of Drago Bloodfist (Djimon Honsou), a longtime nemesis of Stoick who has assembled an army of dragons that threatens the peace of Berk.
Like the first film, the visual effects are spectacular in "How to Train Your Dragon 2," especially the awe-inspiring flight scenes featuring Hiccup and Toothless. All the first film's supporting voice cast also come back for the sequel – America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and T.J. Miller – providing some humor to balance out the darker aspects of the film, including the loss of a major character that seems to borrow a page from the Disney animated classic playbook.
Both adult and kid audiences will likely be taken aback by the tragic turn of events (especially in the manner of how it happens) – a bold move writer-director Dean DeBlois clearly took to advance the plot and give the film some emotional weight. Look for the name of this film to be called again come Oscar time.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Twin Cities radio stations.