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Catholic Movie Reviews - 21 Jump Street, The Deep Blue Sea & A Thousand Words

  • March 16, 2012

This week's movie reviews feature the week's big release, the re-boot of the 1980s TV show 21 Jump Street, the new Eddie Murphy film and a look at Terence Davies' Deep Blue Sea.


21 Jump Street

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - The childish desire to be outrageous, which currently seems to be the driving motive of most Hollywood humor, derails yet another comedy with "21 Jump Street" (Columbia).

Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's big-screen version of the once-popular television series -- which first aired on Fox in 1987 -- starts out as a good-hearted, albeit relentlessly foul-mouthed, buddy study. But, as the vulgarities continue to fly, that apparently irresistible urge to shock leads to scenes of gruesome violence and debased sexuality.

The pals in question are two bungling police partners: sharp but uncoordinated Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and athletically gifted dim bulb Jenko (Channing Tatum). Once schoolyard enemies, the nerd and the jock bonded at the service academy where they discovered they could use their complementary talents to mutual advantage.

Their ties are strained, however, when -- in accordance with the premise of the TV show -- the relatively youthful looking duo find themselves assigned to pose as high school students in an undercover operation designed to bust a drug ring.

Adolescent society, it seems, has changed: Jenko's don't-care, don't-try, laugh-at-the-losers sensibility is no longer considered cool by the crunchy-granola elite who treasure tolerance above all. So Schmidt is suddenly a hipster, while Jenko is consigned to the company of science nerds.

The every-sentence frequency of the F-word aside, so far so good. But things take a morally troublesome turn when our heroes decide to throw a party for their fellow students, blithely supplying their newfound, indisputably underage, chums not only with liquor but with marijuana as well. And the decadence spreads to an upstairs bedroom where we glimpse something unnatural we're supposed to find funny.

Schmidt and Jenko's investigation, moreover, leads them into ever more violent confrontations. Like the aforementioned act of perversity, the sheer extremity of the eventual bloodletting, and the nature of some of the resulting wounds, is clearly meant to amuse.

Viewers of faith will earlier have been made uneasy by an ambivalent treatment of religion. The titular address -- from which the covert program is being run -- is an abandoned church that was once home to a congregation of Korean-Americans.

Before setting out on his assignment, Schmidt pauses to offer a confused, but seemingly sincere prayer before the church's altar, only to be mocked by Jenko and told by his commanding officer (Ice Cube) to leave "Korean Jesus" alone.

The film contains intensely gory gun violence, strong sexual content, including graphically depicted aberrant and nonmarital activity as well as brief rear nudity, drug use, irreverent humor, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.



The Deep Blue Sea

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - It's a safe bet that when violins start playing in a film, a big emotional moment is bound to follow. Such is the case with "The Deep Blue Sea" (Music Box); this period drama is punctuated by the soaring strings of Samuel Barber's 1939 "Violin Concerto."

Based on Terence Rattigan's 1952 play and directed by Terence Davies ("Of Time and the City"), who also wrote the screenplay, "The Deep Blue Sea" charts a lonely wife's downward spiral into adultery, divorce and suicide. Whenever caught between the devil and you-know-where, she consistently makes bad, selfish decisions.

Rattigan's work can be regarded as the trampy sibling of Noel Coward's 1936 one-act play "Still Life," which was made into the classic film "Brief Encounter" in 1945. Coward's story concerns an unhappy wife who meets a handsome stranger at a train station. Friendship turns to love; they consider an affair, but in the end decide -- sensibly, though with regret -- to part.

"The Deep Blue Sea," set in postwar England, takes a more provocative turn. Hester (Rachel Weisz) is depressed, stifled by the propriety of her marriage to Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). Hers is a privileged existence, lacking nothing but real passion.

Stay away from that, Sir William's mother (Barbara Jefford), warns. "Beware of passion, Hester -- it always leads to something ugly," she says. "Replace it with a guarded enthusiasm."

Mother knows best, but Hester longs for wild abandon. She embarks on a secret affair with the dashing but feckless Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). Sir William finds out, and shows Hester the door, though declaring he will never give her a divorce.

Hester, savoring freedom of a kind, moves into Freddie's drab apartment, where they masquerade as a happily married couple. She tells her father, an Anglican vicar, who condemns her adultery and tells her to repent. "Return to your husband. Your first loyalty is to him," he says.

Hester cannot; she is addicted to the physical pleasure that was lacking in her marriage. For this, she endures Freddie's drunkenness and cruelty, admitting, "We're lethal to each other."

But when Freddie forgets her birthday, Hester snaps, and attempts suicide. This brings on more complications -- as well as a surprising rescue offer from her still-smitten husband.

Regrettably, "The Deep Blue Sea" implicitly condones every sin that Hester commits, regarding her free-spirited ways, however egotistical and harmful, as exemplars of women's liberation. For viewers committed to Judeo-Christian values, on the other hand, Hester is anything but a role model. She's a vivid warning against self-destructive behavior.

The film contains mature themes, including suicide and adultery, brief nudity, at least one use of profanity and a few crass references. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.



A Thousand Words

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Silence may indeed be golden. But the comedy "A Thousand Words" (DreamWorks) -- which lumbers forth from an elaborate premise whereby a fast-talking literary agent must learn to hold his peace or kick the bucket -- turns out to be about 90 minutes worth of barely alloyed lead.

Eddie Murphy plays slickster Jack McCall, whose career marketing manuscripts brings him into contact with nice-guy guru and author Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis). Jack's habitual insincerity, however, soon puts him on Sinja's (and, so we're meant to infer, the cosmos') bad side and he finds himself cursed.

According to the terms of the jinx, each word Jack speaks causes a leaf to fall from a tree that has magically sprouted in his backyard. Once the branches are bare, he'll die. By the time Jack figures all of that out -- and the audience, though wearied, is well ahead of him on this -- he has only the titular amount of vocabulary left.

Jack's sudden reticence stymies not only his career (Clark Duke plays his beleaguered office assistant Aaron) but his heretofore happy marriage to wife Caroline (Kerry Washington) as well.

There's mugging galore, but little hilarity in director Brian Robbins' barren comedy. And, when screenwriter Steve Koren's script turns serious about two-thirds of the way through, it mixes fruitful messages about marital fidelity and the importance of family life with shady New Age-style spirituality.

Thus, Jack's desperate efforts to become charitable, which see him tossing baguettes of French bread to Skid Row hobos and donating his expensive watch to fund-raising nuns, only to take it back again, gain him nothing. But reaching out to Caroline and to his Alzheimer's-afflicted mom (Ruby Dee) and resolving his long-standing emotional impasse with his deceased father, taken together, do -- so to speak -- the trick.

Along the way, Sinja offers some gobbledygook guidance, and Caroline dons leather to "spice up" -- and save -- her marriage. Though she briefly handcuffs Jack, it's the folks in the audience who may feel shackled by these flimsy proceedings.

The film contains mature content, including scenes of aberrant sensuality within marriage and incidental gay characters, a few uses of profanity, at least one instance of the F-word, considerable crude and crass language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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