FRESH POUR: Jersey Boys (2014) / 22 Jump Street (2014)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

Jersey BoysJersey Boys
Dir. Clint Eastwood
Warner Bros. Pictures

The words “Clint Eastwood” and “movie musical” don’t really go that well together, so I went into Jersey Boys very cautiously. This film, an adaptation of the stage musical about the hit doo-wop band Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, basically follows the same tired old biopic cliché formula – band comes up from nothing, full of youthful enthusiasm, finds their name and their hit songs through contrived coincidence (“Hey kid, big girls don’t cry”), starts to crack under the weight of fame, financial obligations and personal grudges, and starts to crawl back up to a state of relative peace and understanding. With this film, I start to get the impression that every band basically has the same story, so the innovations have to come from somewhere else – unfortunately, there aren’t enough fresh elements in this film to make it more than just watchable at best.

In many ways, Eastwood’s both the best and worst choice to direct Jersey Boys. On one hand, he gives it the same stately, old-timey feel of previous films like Changeling, and there’s a fealty to the period costumes, sets and lingo that makes it feel like a film from a different time. On the other hand, he seems unwilling to treat the film with anything more than a basic appreciation for the trite drama the band goes through; the film’s not so much a sprawling musical than it is a Baby-Goodfellas version of That Thing You Do!, fleshing out the Four Seasons’ story with a mob-movie subplot about how the band entered financial troubles with don Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken, stealing every scene he’s in while nonetheless blindfolded by old age and a lack of energy) and has to get out.

One of the film’s biggest flaws is a lack of identity – how musical-y should they get?, you can hear them asking themselves. It’s a jukebox musical, so it’s easy to make the musical numbers diegetic, as all of the songs are just played between band members or for an audience. Given this otherwise firm grounding in reality, the constant asides from each Four Season feels redundant and jarring; each act of the film is meant to be from ‘their’ perspective, though none of these acts are told in a dramatically different way from the other. The final epilogue is especially trite, with a pre-credits full-cast musical number that feels out of place with the rest of the film (complete with stilted choreography and oddly lingering shots of the actors standing still).

There are enough strengths in Jersey Boys to rescue the film from its doldrums on occasion. For one thing, the music (all Four Seasons songs) remains as listenable as ever, and the performers all acquit themselves well. John Lloyd Young is particularly interesting as Frankie Valli; he’s been playing this role for years (he’s been part of the stage show since its inception, and one of the few actors carried over to the film). It’s clear he’s got Valli’s straight-pitch falsetto down pat. The film treats him like an object of fascination for most of the film, giving him a shy mystique as the other characters fawn over his particular brand of shy bravado.For a long time, the film feels like mischievous, flawed Tommy DeVito’s story (Vincent Piazza), but the final act focuses on Valli. Interestingly enough, this is the time when we get the least narration; it somewhat pays off when one lingering shot after the death of a loved one sees Valli glance at the camera, as if he’ll finally start talking to us, only to glance back down in refusal. Young honestly isn’t asked to do too much, as Valli himself isn’t a particularly compelling or active character, but he manages to make these moments of pathos work.

All in all, though, the film is overlong at 2 hours 15 minutes, and feels too redundant and rote to really bring anything new to the table. I imagine fans of the musical will be particularly disappointed, since it’s likely nothing they haven’t seen before in the show (apart from some tricks in cars). The actors playing the Four Seasons start out looking like little kids playing dress-up, but by the hour mark they’ve settled into their characters and relationships, and allow the big scenes to play out fairly well. Piazza in particular is great as Tommy DeVito, and is the only one who doesn’t look terrible in the crappy old age makeup at the end. If you love the musical (or just the Four Seasons in general), give it a shot; otherwise, don’t waste your time.

Eastwood’s made better films, and those expecting a big-and-bold musical might be disappointed at the un-inventive biopic they find.

Clint’s Verdict: Worth a Watch

Jersey Boys Movie Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever a character makes an aside to the audience
2) Drink any time a new song starts
3) Drink every time someone references Frankie Valli’s talent or potential
Finish Your Drink When:
Gyp Decarlo (Christopher Walken) says to Tommy DeVito, “And you…stay outta my bathroom.”

MV5BMTcwNzAxMDU1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE2NTU1MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_22 Jump Street
Dirs. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Columbia Pictures

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller might just be the heroes of film comedy at this point – their reboot of 21 Jump Street two years ago was an incredible surprise of a film, mixing meta-humor about the nature of reboots and action films with a surprisingly fascinating look at friendship and the changing culture of modern high schools. (It also showed us that there actually is value in Channing Tatum as a comedic actor.) Just earlier this year, their LEGO Movie became one of my favorite films of the year so far (and one we’ll be talking about in our very next episode!). I was wary that the pair might start to get stale after releasing a second movie just a few months after the first; however, I was pleased to learn that 22 Jump Street is at least as good as the first.

This time around, buddy cops Janko (Channing Tatum, continuing to impress with his infectious enthusiasm) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill, strangely anchoring the film with his standard improv gags) are sent to college to track down yet another strange drug, this one called WHYPHY (“Work Hard? Yes. Play Hard? Yes.”). Here, the two find their friendship tested once again with their roles reversed – Janko fitting in amongst the party-hard football players, while Schmidt falls in with the hipster art crowd at MC State.

There’s an elaborate tightrope that’s being walked in this sequel to the film reboot of a cult 1980s show – how meta do you go in mocking your own style and the trappings of your genre until you’re simply hanging a lantern on bad things you know you’re doing anyway? Right from the start, Lord and Miller effectively hold up their palms to us and say “Now wait, let me explain,” as they continually echo through the character’s mouths their weariness with sequels, the budget considerations made after the success of the first. The first half of the film is opulently budgeted, with a 24-style police department; the second half sees Ice Cube’s police chief begging them not to cost the department any more money (as shown through a car chase that cuts around the places that would actually be costly to shoot).

That Lord and Miller are able to so brazenly copy the greatest hits from the first film, hang a lantern on them by winking at the audience, and still making them work on their own is a credit to their craftsmanship as comedy filmmakers and the trust they instill in their leads. Lord and Miller adapt many ‘bits’ from the first well; there’s a ‘tripping’ scene in this one as well, and it’s just different enough to be hilarious. The insertion of more sly ‘meta’ gags (“See this tattoo? It’s a red herring!”, the meet-cute sandwich) make it a blast for film fans as well without being too cloying – or rather, reveling in its cloyness in a disarming way.

What really helps the meta humor go down easier is the focusing of the film on the central relationship between Janko and Schmidt. Tatum and Hill continue to have amazing chemistry together, and their childlike glee in simply being together as friends is the heart and soul of the film. Like the first, 22 is about the two tempting a split by people who give them the validation and love they want; where the first saw popularity luring Schmidt away while leaving Janko in the dust, here Schmidt is the one left out by Janko’s bromance with carbon-copy footballer Zuke (Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell). Janko and Schmidt are literally divided by split-screens in several important parts of the film, but the device slowly becomes less about how they’re growing apart and more about how they depend on each other to do different things. It’s less innovative, particularly because it doesn’t subvert expectations like the first did by having Channing Tatum be the unpopular one, but when taken in concert with the first film it works.

In short, 22 Jump Street is a relentlessly clever and natural continuation of the first film, expanding its focus to the film industry altogether (stay through the main end credits to get a wonderful skewering of sequels in general) carried by two insanely watchable leads.

Clint’s Verdict: Loved It!

22 Jump Street Movie Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you see another character drinking
2) Drink anytime you hear a meta joke about the film/franchise
3) Drink every time Jenko (Channing Tatum) performs an amazing feat of physical strength or agility
Finish Your Drink When:
Janko says something cool. (You’ll know what it is when you hear it.)

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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