THE FOUNDER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief Strong Language

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Written by: Robert D. Siegel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern & Patrick Wilson

You might be saying: “Really? A biopic about the guy who made McDonald’s? That doesn’t sound too exciting. What’s next? A biopic about Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, or Wendy’s? ” Oh, ye of little faith dear reader, because it turns out that THE FOUNDER is a deliberately ironic title. Before it was globally clogging arteries, McDonald’s was actually a small little restaurant in California. This fast food joint originally had nothing to do with the main character of this biopic. THE FOUNDER lays out the sleazy success story of Ray Kroc, a man who is often mistakenly credited as McDonald’s creator. It’s a wholly compelling ride through a “rat eat rat” world of business, a look at fast food’s revolutionary effect, and a character study of a total scumbag.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling, over-the-hill salesman. When a special sales order catches his interest, Ray finds himself in San Bernardino and eats at unconventional restaurant McDonald’s. This business’s revolutionary techniques capture Ray’s interest and he eagerly proposes to franchise the company with the McDonalds brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). As time goes on and the burger business is booming, Ray finds himself struggling with the terms of his contract. Soon enough, Ray employs some rather shady means of trying to screw the brothers out of their own business. We get to witness Ray’s back-stabbing moves, snide comments, and borderline illegal strategies. This is all very interesting, entertaining, and mostly (about 90%) true.

Michael Keaton has been a winning streak of performances lately. After portraying a desperate artist in BIRDMAN and a motivated journalist in SPOTLIGHT, Keaton plays Ray Kroc as an all-out asshole. What’s interesting is how Keaton slowly eases the viewer into Ray’s mental state and ambitious nature. We start this film feeling for him and sympathizing with his plight. As the money flows in and his greed grows, Ray’s morals are tossed by the wayside and he becomes a pretty much irredeemable character. Keaton makes this salesman-turned-“founder” so compelling that you likely won’t notice the shift in Ray’s attitude until you’re too far gone in the story. Kroc was a fascinating real-life character and Keaton plays him to perfection.

Though their importance and screen time range, the supporting cast does an excellent job with the material as well. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are great as the McDonalds brothers. Lynch is able to portray a softer and more vulnerable side that I haven’t seen from him before, while Offerman is great as the more strict and defensive brother of the two. Their sibling chemistry is believable and the pair provide two sympathetic antagonists in Kroc’s high-rising path. Patrick Wilson and B.J. Novak are solid as two of Kroc’s business partners. Meanwhile, Laura Dern plays Kroc’s neglected wife and receives some of Keaton’s more emotionally abusive moments.

The look of THE FOUNDER is great because it nicely captures the 1950s time period. The script slightly glamorizes Kroc’s rise to power, even at the cost of trampling on plenty of people beneath him. What’s even more impressive is how this film really shows small details in the fast food revolution. The McDonalds brothers were geniuses with their intricate serving system and strived to maintain a strong code of ethics in their kitchens. In Ray Kroc’s hands, those ethics flew right out the door. It’s fascinating to think about how many fast food restaurants today wouldn’t exist without the brothers’ brilliance and Ray’s immoral sense of constant persistence.

THE FOUNDER is sure to linger the minds of those who watch it. This film works as three things: a drama about the fast food revolution, a dark look into the back-stabbing business world, and a character study of a rather unsavory scumbag. However, the script occasionally bites off more than it can chew. There are a few events that are mentioned in passing and then rushed by for the sake of time. While two hours is probably the ideal length of time for this biopic, there are a couple of spots that seem to move a tad too quickly. These hiccups in pacing don’t detract from the film’s many positives though. This is essentially the fast food version of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. THE FOUNDER might as well have been titled THERE WILL BE BURGERS. If that sounds up your alley, THE FOUNDER will probably satisfy your appetite for a compelling biopic!

Grade: A-

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Images, Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Written by: Robert Smigel & Adam Sandler

Voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Asher Blinkoff, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle & Jon Lovitz

I enjoy the original HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Though it had nothing on other kid-friendly horror flicks like PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE of the same year (2012), HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA served as a colorful, innocent and funny take on classic monsters. It wasn’t nearly as bad as one might expect an Adam Sandler animated comedy to be either. I had fun watching it, even though it didn’t quite know how to end. I wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea of a sequel and the trailer for this second installment had me intrigued. The advertising for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 make it seem as if this second film goes in a different direction than the first and for the most part, it does. However, this sequel carries over some of the exact same problems that the original movie suffered from as well.

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Since the events of the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, Mavis (Dracula’s daughter) and Johnny (her human boyfriend) have tied the knot. A short while later, the two have a kid. It’s up in the air as to whether their son, Dennis, is a human or a vampire. If he’s a monster, the kid will sprout fangs within his first five years. Dracula becomes concerned that his grandson isn’t the bloodsucking fiend that he hoped he would be and does his best to bring out the monster inside of Dennis, all while Johnny introduces Mavis to the human world in California. There’s only a few days until Dennis’s fifth birthday. Is Dennis actually a vampire? If he’s only human, will Dracula (his vampa, short for vampire grandpa) be willing to accept him for who he is? I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

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I’ll address the positives first. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is very well animated. There’s a good atmosphere hovering over the whole film that feels like a kid-friendly version of something like THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The characters are all creative and creepily cute in their designs. I especially liked the inclusion of Dracula’s grandpa, Vlad, who appears to be an almost Nosferatu-like presence. The voice cast all fit their roles, with my favorite still being Steve Buscemi as a worn-out werewolf with over 300 kids. The subplot involving Mavis and Johnny in California is more enjoyable for the adults than it really is for children. What’s especially funny are the misguided lengths that Johnny’s parents will go to in order to make Mavis feel accepted in their mortal home. These moments did get some solid laughs out of me.

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The main plot at hand focuses on Dracula and his monstrous crew trying to get Dennis to sprout his potentially nonexistent fangs. While the film gets off to a slow, episodic start, it really finds its stride when Dracula hits the road with Dennis. During this middle section, the film moves from creative set-piece to creative set-piece as the monsters try to showcase their old-school abilities (e.g. the mummy conjuring a sand storm, the werewolf killing an innocent animal, etc.) and ultimately finding that they’re not as young as they used to be. This middle section is also chock full of big laughs for both children and adults. As well-paced as the momentum is, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 doesn’t stick the landing at all. This movie has a really stupid ending. The film seemed as if it was building towards a potentially powerful message that could be taken to heart by both kids and adults, ultimately something you wouldn’t expect at all from a sequel to an animated Adam Sandler comedy. The screenplay botches this by introducing a last-minute baddie for no apparent reason other than to have an obvious villain and also includes a repetitive, cheap fight sequence. This doesn’t exactly sink this entire film up to that point, especially considering that the first movie suffered from the exact same problem, but it is disappointing.

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 should definitely keep kids entertained for just under 90 minutes with its colorful animation, obvious jokes and whatnot. There are pieces of adult humor that will go right over children’s heads and the middle is definitely the strongest part of the whole film. Ultimately, if you liked the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, then you’ll enjoy this second installment. I consider them on the same playing field. Both films have strong animation, a good premise, and solid laughs throughout. However, they both drag a little too long and don’t quite stick the landing due to tacked-on, dumb endings. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is cute, harmless fun and that’s all it was ever meant to be.

Grade: B-

SIN CITY (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sustained Strong Stylized Violence, Nudity and Sexual Content including Dialogue

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Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Nick Stahl, Josh Hartnett, Powers Boothe, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy & Michael Clarke Duncan

With the long-awaited sequel (almost a decade since the first movie) coming right around the corner, the urge hit me to rewatch SIN CITY. To be perfectly honest I haven’t seen this movie in five years, though it was a favorite of mine in high school that I viewed repeatedly. Frank Miller, graphic novelist behind 300, and Robert Rodriguez (along with a brief bit by Tarantino) brought to life the gritty crime stories of Frank Miller in a beautifully made film. This was one of the first films to be constructed in this kind of visual fashion that other movies would use further down the line (e.g. 300 for a good film and THE SPIRIT for a bad one). All the beautiful spectacle in the world cannot save a film that lacks in the writing department, but luckily Frank Miller’s stories are brought to life frame for frame. As in there wasn’t even a full writing credit on this film, because everything was right out of Miller’s books.

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For those who don’t know (a surprisingly large amount out there), SIN CITY is composed of four different crime stories that weave and intersect around each other. Think PULP FICTION loaded with even more over-the-top gratuitous violence that also packs a depressing and dark edge. The main thing I can see turning people off SIN CITY is how damned dark it is. However, some stories inject crazy humor into the mix and go into ridiculous territory that remind the viewer they’re essentially watching a live-action comic book. I’m going to tackle each story individually to address the pros and cons of all four tales, but the movie is absolutely gorgeous to behold. Extreme care and attention to detail was put into every frame to bring Frank Miller’s gritty city landscape to life and the sinful citizens inhabiting it. So without further ado, on to the four stories contained within 2005’s SIN CITY…

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THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT: Serving as an opener and closer to the film, these two brief segments welcome to the viewer to the nasty world of SIN CITY and bid them on their way right before cutting to credits. Josh Hartnett plays a character known only as The Salesman. He woos two different women and harbors a dark agenda. This story lasts under five minutes, but keeps a level of mystery around the Salesman character that makes you want to know more about him. This information is never given and never will be, but Josh Hartnett knocks it out of the park with his charismatic and foreboding performance. The opening bit also serves as a nice introduction to just what kind of tone the entire movie will have. A+

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THE HARD GOODBYE: If there’s a single story that I would point out as my least favorite in SIN CITY, it would be HARD GOODBYE. It’s not as if the story is terrible, because it is actually very creative. It follows Marv, a scarred and thuggish individual. He’s just had the time of his life with Goldie, the one hooker who has ever accepted his love. After waking up from a drunken stupor, Marv finds Goldie murdered in bed with him and he’s framed for the crime. Unfortunately for the corrupt cops and a powerful family, Marv is a lunatic who has no problem with hurting anyone who gets in his way or applying vicious torture techniques in order to get information. Mickey Rourke’s misshapen giant is a gentleman to ladies, but is more than a little eager to get his hands dirty on the male scum of Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City).

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The only flaw I find in HARD GOODBYE is how damned dark and mean-spirited the whole story is. It might seem silly to complain about brutality in a movie called SIN CITY. It’s also worth noting that this film originally received an NC-17 from the MPAA and had to go through some edits in order to secure an R rating. Most of these edits most likely come from HARD GOODBYE as it’s nightmarish at points. Elijah Wood pops in for a memorable role that doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. This story also has the most depressing ending of the bunch. It’s phenomenally made and vicious, but it’s also downright unpleasant at points. As well-made as this film is, I’m glad this story was fired early. A-

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THE BIG FAT KILL: Things go from depressing to really entertaining in this story involving gun-totting prostitutes, a hardened man named Dwight, and quite a lot of gangsters. After kicking his girlfriend’s abusive drunkard of an ex out of her apartment, Dwight is convinced that he’s up to no good and follows him into Old Town. This section of the city is full of hookers who will give you the night of your life if you follow the rules or be the death of you if you try any funny stuff. Murder, chaos, and a race against time to cover up a bad mistake ensues. I don’t want to say too much about this story, because some of the enjoyment comes from how wild things get and the unexpected turns the plot takes. BIG FAT KILL is a nice pick me up from the depressing previous story and packs a lot of absurd humor that makes it the most entertaining segment of the movie. I would even go as far as saying that this is my favorite tale of the four being told. A+

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THAT YELLOW BASTARD: The final story actually begins before HARD GOODBYE and then picks up after BIG FAT KILL. John Hartigan is one of the last honest cops in Sin City. They’re a rare breed, in case you can’t guess from the title nickname of Basin City. Hartigan has been on the trail of a pedophile/child-killer who happens to have powerful connections. John puts a few bullets in the psycho and saves an eight year-old girl named Nancy, but finds himself framed for the crimes. Eight years after being locked up, Hartigan is a free man and tries to protect Nancy from the now yellow-skinned psychopath who wants revenge. The plot of YELLOW BASTARD is predictable, but is very cool to watch unfold to say the least. This is the a more character driven story that is actually given a decent amount of time to make you care about John and Nancy. Sympathizing with them makes everything to come that much more gripping. One of the more grotesque deaths you’ll see in cinema occurs in this story and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving character. Predictability aside, this story delivers on every level. A+

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SIN CITY works in visually capturing a comic book brought to life, but also has Frank Miller’s stellar writing behind it. Every single actor and actress, including usually less-than-great Jessica Alba, gave exactly what was needed of them in their characters. The biggest strength is that all four stories (despite how short they actually are) could fill a four separate movies worth of material and still be rock solid. Packing them all inside a barely over two hour long running time leaves no room to drag and captured my attention from frame one. There are lots of things to like in SIN CITY. The beautiful visuals are merely icing on the cake as the movie moves from emotional and cold to dark and grim to strangely funny and all around amazing. There was never anything quite like SIN CITY before it came along and even if this ten-year-delayed sequel doesn’t deliver on the promise of delivering more great material, then we’ll always have this perfect noir that stands as a cinematic landmark of sorts.

Grade: A+

22 JUMP STREET (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Sexual Content, Drug Material, brief Nudity and some Violence

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel & Rodney Rothman

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Amber Stevens, Nick Offerman & Rob Riggle

If anybody claims that they knew 2012’s 21 JUMP STREET reboot would be as good as it was, then they’re lying to your face. That movie should have stank to high heavens and the concept sounded like the worst idea in theory. Then Chris Miller and Phil Lord entered and churned out a pretty decent action-comedy. 21 JUMP STREET, though fairly predictable and almost wearing out its welcome, was a big success. The last thing anyone expected was a sequel, but 22 JUMP STREET is now in theaters and it manages to one-up the first film in every possible way. The script relies on an extreme amount of meta-humor and a mighty clever plot that goes out of the way not to repeat certain scenarios from the last film (hence the obvious meta-humor aspect prevalent in every frame of the film). 22 JUMP STREET is a very funny and wholly entertaining sequel to an action-comedy based on a cheesy 80’s cop-drama (you don’t often see that description, do you?).

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After a bust gone wrong, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent back into the Jump Street undercover program. Since their age is starting to show, they have now been placed in college to find the supplier of a new deadly synthetic drug (exactly like the first time, as their police captain so eloquently states) and stamp it out before it spreads across the country. The pill-based drug “WHYPHY” is extremely hard to track down. While on their supposedly simple mission, Schmidt falls for an art major and Jenko blends into the hard-drinking football-playing frat boy lifestyle. These factors complicate the dim-witted duo’s mystery of discovering where the drug is coming from and the identity of who’s selling it.

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Everything is a lot funnier and more entertaining this time around. This is the most meta-humored movie I’ve ever seen. One of the opening scenes in the sergeant’s office should let you know right away what you’re in for, because he’s pretty much describing the unexpected success of the last movie (right down to box-office lingo) in briefing the partners of their new assignment. Ice Cube, who got annoying as the angry black man stereotype in the first film, is given a lot more room to garner some well-deserved laughs. A few of his scenes had me cracking up to the point of near tears.

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The comedic pairing between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum feels more natural here too. Jonah Hill is essentially still playing the straight-man that he played in the previous installment, though he does get some comedy gold here and there. Channing Tatum is absolutely the funniest person. The friendship between Hill and Tatum feels genuine, even if it does get strained from time to time. It’s a good pairing, though I wouldn’t necessarily pray to see 23 JUMP STREET in the future (lightning probably won’t strike three times with this idea). A much-welcomed Peter Stormare shows up as one of the antagonists and gets some memorable moments. Another stand-out is Jillian Bell as a disapproving roommate who comes off as a very unusual comedic character in a lot of odd ways. You really have to see her performance to fully appreciate how funny she is. Plenty of cameos abound as well.

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22 JUMP STREET has a fair share of problems. These mainly revolve around some predictable through-the-motions clichés that do pop up from time to time. The movie makes fun of itself with some ultra self-aware jabs at even containing these familiar buddy-cop tropes. It still can get a little irksome. Also for the first half, I felt as if the movie would wind up on the same decent-but-not-great level that I found 21 JUMP STREET to fit squarely in. Then one key moment (you’ll know if when you see it) happens and the movie catapulted into hysterically good territory. The second half of the film is where things really shine, although the former does have it’s fair share of good jokes. Once it hits the successful stride halfway through, it never lets up on the laughs.

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22 JUMP STREET, much like 21 JUMP STREET, is far better than it has any right to be. It’s a sequel to a comedic reboot of a silly 80’s TV series. Things work out entirely in the movie’s favor though. This is one hell of a funny action-comedy. The first half has some solid laughs, but takes a little while to get fully going. The second half is where things went onto being downright hilarious. The movie is very entertaining and I can definitely see myself watching it again sometime in the future. Also stick around for the brilliant end credits that send the film out on the highest (most meta) note possible!

Grade: B

21 JUMP STREET (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content, Pervasive Language, Drug Material, Drug Material, Teen Drinking and some Violence

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET created by Patrick Hasburgh & Stephen J. Cannell)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle & Ice Cube

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have gone on record saying that their careers seem to based around making terrible-sounding ideas good. This is dead-on accurate considering that their other directorial work has included CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and THE LEGO MOVIE. The idea of making a film out of a cheesy 80’s cop-drama as a comedy (which easily could have tanked at the box office) sounded pretty dire on paper. With 21 JUMP STREET, the pair go headlong into hard R-rated humor and do a decent job with it.

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In their high school years, Morton Schmidt was an awkward nerd and Greg Jenko was a popular jock. They met again in the police academy and became fast friends, helping each other out in the areas where they struggled. Together they became police officers and took down a big drug dealer…but forgot to read him the Miranda rights. Due to their mistake, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves transferred to an undercover department located at 21 Jump Street. They must go back to high school incognito to take down a new synthetic drug and its creator. Times have changed since their days in grade school and so have the cliques. Of course, this leads to one cop getting too deep in his fake identity, while the other becomes a bit of an outcast taking his undercover work seriously.

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21 JUMP STREET is funny, quite funny during some scenes. It nails that part of the film right out of the gate, which is not an easy thing to do in comedy. For once, Jonah Hill is more of the straight-man to the surprisingly hilarious Channing Tatum. Ice Cube shows up in a supporting role and does the usual angry black man making mean faces routine. His character even points out that this is a stereotype, but it doesn’t make this running joke any better. The actors playing the high school students were convincing and looked the right age for the parts. For me, the biggest laughs came in Rob Riggle’s character of an obnoxious gym teacher.

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Most of the humor works in pretty cleverly addressing what a huge transition has gone between the generational gap. What used to be considered geeky or lame has found a trend in being the new cool thing. What used to be fantastic modern music is now considered oldies. The emphasis on how far out of their element Hill and Tatum are makes for some solid entertainment value.

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Besides being a comedy, the film nails some of the action movie parts too. There are shoot-outs and car chases. They all have an added comedic sense that works fairly well around them too. One high-speed chase on a freeway had me cracking up and was probably my favorite part of the entire film! This isn’t a movie content to just play with a few curse words getting the R-rating and some cheap laughs. 21 JUMP STREET revels in the hard R-rated comedic material. It gets pretty hilarious at points, but during others it feels like the jokes wear out their welcome a bit (e.g. a scene involving tripping out on drugs that’s revisited later on in the film). The plot is fairly predictable as well. We know exactly where things are going and what point they’ll end up at. It’s a matter of playing-by-the-numbers. The script hits all of the requisite beats for a buddy-cop film, but the comedy works in the 21 JUMP STREET’s overall favor and slightly sets it apart from similar movies.

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21 JUMP STREET is a buddy-cop comedy based on a cheesy 80’s drama that is clearly in on the joke. That’s pretty obvious when you take into consideration one phenomenal cameo (well worth the long wait to reveal it). Jonah Hill plays more of the serious character as opposed to most of the hilarity coming from Channing Tatum (who does a surprisingly great job). The film is familiar and some of the jokes miss their mark significantly. Taken as an outrageous romp, 21 JUMP STREET is a good time. You pretty much know if you’ll like this one as you’re walking into it.

Grade: B-

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