Friday movie roundup: Second time around, twice
Hollywood is sequel-heavy this weekend — but, for a change, that's a good thing.
The action cop comedy "22 Jump Street" is a sequel that knows it's a sequel, and draws much of its meta-level humor mocking its own existence. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as Jenko and Schmidt, cops who go undercover as college students to bust a drug ring. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who did the first movie and "The LEGO Movie," keep the jokes flying fast and thick as they parody cop-movie conventions and the industry demand for sequels and reboots.
The other major sequel this week is "How to Train Your Dragon 2," a fast-paced and beautifully rendered computer-animated tale of Vikings and dragons. Our hero Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon companion Toothless discover a haven for dragons, led by Hiccup's long-lost mother (voiced by Cate Blanchett), who is protecting the dragons from a nasty warrior (voiced by Djimon Hounsou). The movie doesn't have the surprise factor of the first movie, but it's well-crafted and engaging.
Topping the art-house slate this week is "Night Moves," the latest minimalist drama from director Kelly Reichardt ("Meek's Cutoff," "Wendy and Lucy"). This thriller centers on two young environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning) who become radicalized, and hatch a plan to blow up a dam on an Oregon river. The tension builds slowly but surely, as the characters carry out their plan and then deal with the consequences.
"The Signal" is a thriller of a different sort, a science-fiction head-scratcher about three MIT computer students (Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp) driving cross-country and being lured to a remote location by a mysterious hacker. How they wind up in a secret government facility, and grilled by a hazmat-suited Laurence Fishburne, is part of that mystery. Director William Eubank does a lot with no budget, including some impressive special effects.
Juliette Binoche is the best special effect in the pokey romance "Words and Pictures," but even she's not enough to pull this one off. Binoche plays a New York artist who takes a job as an art teacher at an upstate prep school, where she bickers and banters with the honors English teacher (Clive Owen) about the relative value of text vs. image. The script ticks through the predictable moments of the teachers' growing fondness and Owen's character's alcoholism, but only Binoche is really worth watching.
Lastly, there's "Young & Beautiful," a sexy but emotionally distant drama from French director François Ozon ("Swimming Pool," "Potiche"). Martha Vacth stars as Isabelle, a 17-year-old beauty whose first sexual encounter leaves her unsatisfied — so she decides to explore further, by becoming a call girl catering to rich, older businessmen. When one of her regulars dies of a heart attack while in the act, all of Isabelle's secrets come crashing down on her. Ozon's eye for beauty is unsurpassed, but the emptiness in Isabelle's emotional life can't be papered over.