Jonah Hill


(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Vince Vaughn had something of a hot streak in the early 2000s, and it was one of those rare moments where a star’s schtick is perfectly utilized in several roles in just the right order. Flicks like “Old School,” “Dodgeball” and “Wedding Crashers” represent a golden age for the comedian, and his personality hasn’t been used so well in a film in a long time. However, “The Watch” practically nails it, bouncing Vaughn’s puppy-dog enthusiasm off of Jonah Hill, “Dodgeball” castmate Ben Stiller and Richard Ayoade to wonderful effect.

That central quartet makes up the film’s titular organization, founded by Stiller’s Evan after a murder takes place in the Costco he manages. Bob (Vaughn) mostly just wants a chance to revel in some male bonding, while Franklin (Hill) and Jamarcus (Ayoade) are just trying to find a way to fit in or keep themselves entertained. However, their small-time crime fighting is quickly derailed by a brewing alien invasion.

Clearly, the main appeal to “The Watch” is putting Stiller, Hill and Vaughn in a car together and letting them riff. Stiller is mostly asked to stick to playing the straight man, and he’s tightly wound here. Evan has a legitimate affection for the community he’s built a life in, and Stiller makes forming the neighborhood watch feel intensely personal to the character. Vaughn is very effective as well, and his full-speed-ahead exhilaration for whatever he happens to be doing at the moment is infectious.

Hill isn’t used as the hapless smartass he usually portrays, and he gets to play a much harder edge than normal as Franklin, a delusional and unapologetically sleazy dropout with aspirations of joining the police force. He gets some big laughs here, especially in a few brief back-and-forths with Vaughn, but the film’s MVP is easily Ayoade. His Jamarcus is almost a walking contradiction, timid but assertive, and Ayoade brings an unexpected strut to the film’s dynamics. He also gets the most interesting material to play, and he absolutely sells his character’s inner conflict.

“The Watch” is designed with corporate synergy in mind, and the film’s Costco setting allows for some fairly blatant product placement. However, the film isn’t content to simply be a long Tide commercial, and gives its central characters some genuine nuance and shading. The film’s attempts to get to the bottom of masculine insecurity and camaraderie are unexpected, and even if they’re not particularly original, it’s refreshing that the film is even trying. “The Watch” never overdoes it on the emotional beats, and deploys them well.

It’s been a summer that’s noticeably light on strong comedies, and the last truly funny wide release to hit multiplexes was probably “21 Jump Street.” “The Watch” is certainly no comedy classic, but it’s completely painless to watch, a frequently hilarious exploration of male bonding in the face of the apocalypse. There are certainly better films in theaters this weekend, but “The Watch” is so innocuous, entertaining and downright funny that it’s a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill hold a Q&A at the end of the premier of their movie 21 Jump Street held by SXSW at the Paramount Theater Tuesday night. Tatum and Hill play the part of two undercover cops named Jenko and Schmidt.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum don’t seem like a great comedic duo on paper, but together they make “21 Jump Street,” a film that shouldn’t work, a hilarious, surprisingly touching comedy.

The film screened at South By Southwest last week, and The Daily Texan participated in a round table interview with Hill and Tatum.

The Daily Texan: SXSW seems like a great place to bring this film and show it to a crowd.
Jonah Hill:
Yeah, it’s been really fun. I made [Channing] wait to see it with an audience, with the crowd tonight, because South By is the best place to show a movie in the world. In fact, five years ago exactly, I was here promoting “Knocked Up” with Paul Rudd when I got the phone call asking me to adapt this TV show into a movie, and I started working on it five years ago exactly, in this same hotel. It’s kind of insane.

DT: Was it originally a comedy?
My agent said you should do it as a comedy, and I said, “Let me think about it. I don’t want to be someone who remakes things,” and that’s why one of the first jokes is about how lazy it is. I wanted to make “Bad Boys” meets a John Hughes movie, and that’s the idea I had and that’s what I feel like we’ve done our best shot at, our best version of.

DT: When you two first met, could you tell that you had that chemistry that would translate so well on screen?
It’s crazy because we took a gamble at it and ended up becoming great friends and got lucky that it worked.

Channing Tatum: Sometimes it’s not like that.

Hill: We didn’t know each other.

Tatum: We waved at each other from across a restaurant. “Superbad” came out, and I was like “’Grats, dude!” And he was like “Sup?” And that was it.

DT: How do you feel about the backlash from “21 Jump Street” ... I don’t know what you would call them, purists, I guess?
We’ve heard that once today, and that made me laugh so hard. Those 15 people. There’s a script that’s a pure adaptation of the series, and I can get a copy of that to the 15 nerds who are complaining online. The writers of it actually came up to me and were like, “Oh man, your version is about a billion times better.”

DT: How did you decide what to keep from the original series?
We just wanted to pay homage at certain points, just to have that fun stuff for people who love the show, but “21 Jump Street” purists ... It’s like, “Shut the fuck up!” You know, it’s not like we remade “The Godfather.” I would never remake something that was like a brilliant, amazing thing. It was something that was fun, but it didn’t need a remake. What’s funny is, when you talk to young people, they don’t even know what “21 Jump Street” is.

Tatum: Just keep bringing it back. I don’t care. Remakes or not, good stories are good stories. Good movies are good movies.

Hill: Those people who are complaining, they haven’t seen the movie. What’s hilarious is, the best thing our movie has going for it is its extremely low expectations because it’s a remake of a television show. They always suck. Ours is good, and that’s the twist of the movie, that it’s not awful.

DT: Channing, was it difficult to keep up with the more experienced comedians on set?
I don’t think you can keep up with these guys. They’re truly the elite of what they actually do, but they set a great stage for me to not feel bad about failing and really going for it.

DT: Jonah, what was it like getting to do action scenes?
It was fun. I liked it a lot. That’s why it was important to cast Channing opposite me because, in order for a movie to feel like “Bad Boys” meets a John Hughes movie, you need it to have some action credibility there, and I had never done action movies before, so I don’t have credibility in that universe and Channing has done a ton of it and is amazing at it. It was really fun, honestly. There’s no other way to put it.

DT: It seemed like there were some bits from the trailers that didn’t make it into the movie. There was a scene where Channing runs over you with his car and the windshield is smashed.
That’s interesting. We saw a really early cut of the movie. I haven’t seen the movie either.

Hill: I know there’s been a lot of backlash from windshield purists.

Published on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 as: "21 Jump Street' stars discuss film

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“Moneyball” isn’t director Bennett Miller’s first foray into fact-based drama — Bennett’s last film was Oscar winner “Capote” back in 2005. While “Capote” managed to tell a compelling story and featured an all-time great performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Moneyball” suffers from its true-to-life basis, dwelling on the facts of Billy Beane’s attempt to revolutionize baseball too much to tell an entertaining story.

Brad Pitt stars as Beane, a failed professional baseball player turned general manager for the Oakland A’s. As his star players keep getting yanked from under him because of the A’s disadvantaged financial situation, Beane turns to a theory pioneered by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), which uses statistics to construct a hypothetical “perfect team,” much to the chagrin of other A’s officials, especially field manager Art (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Pitt has been getting some considerable Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Beane, and the attention isn’t totally unwarranted. Pitt brings a tremendous nervous energy to Beane’s mannerisms that makes him undeniably fun to watch. While letting Hill and Pitt bounce off each other for extended periods of time may not sound like the best idea on paper, the two have a certain chemistry that makes for some very big laughs and their scenes are among the film’s highlights.

Unfortunately, almost everything else about the film is simply different levels of underwhelming. Many of the supporting characters are underused, especially Hoffman’s manager, who seems to exist solely to make Billy throw things and Chris Pratt as a down-on-his-luck player given a second chance. Hoffman and Pratt are both strong actors, but the script never gives them anything to do and as such, they never get a chance to impress in any significant manner.
The rest of the film requires a more-than-cursory knowledge of baseball, since the narrative of “Moneyball” strongly relies on lots and lots of facts related to the game, all of them presented with little to no context. This makes for a somewhat confusing experience for anyone without a relatively thorough knowledge of the game and a frustrating one when we see Beane’s strategy failing with little explanation. There’s no doubt that screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian know how to tell a better story than this and their dialogue never dips below serviceable, but the script is all facts and no flavor.
Everyone involved in “Moneyball” obviously tries to form a shapeless mass of baseball-related factoids into a compelling story and even succeeds in a few scenes. When the film actually cuts to the baseball field, both in moments of triumph and defeat, things become legitimately compelling, but these moments are few and far between — brief signs of life in what’s mostly a bland regurgitation of baseball statistics. While Pitt and Hill do their best to keep the film interesting, “Moneyball” ultimately isn’t up to the challenge of making its story relatable.

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Technicalities ruin potential of star-studded baseball film."