Tag Archives: Ice Cube

After School Special

Charlie Day, Ice Cube put new shine(r) on classic Hollywood grudge match

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Fist Fight
Starring Charlie Day & Ice Cube
Directed by Richie Keen
R
In theaters Feb. 17, 2017

Hollywood loves taking a good idea, dusting it off and giving it a new shine.

Or a new shiner, as the case may be with Fist Fight, in which a hapless high school teacher (Charlie Day) is challenged to a brawl by one of his fellow instructors (Ice Cube) at 3 p.m. on the last day of classes.

If you’re old enough to remember, you may recall a wonderful little 1987 movie called Three O’Clock High, which had essentially the same premise with two students. If you’ve got a really good memory, you may recall that Three O’Clock High offered a contemporary cinematic nod to High Noon, the 1952 Gary Cooper classic about a marshal forced to face a gang of killers alone—as a clock tick-tocks down the anxious minutes in real time.

The grudge match in Fist Fight is played for laughs, and there are plenty, beginning with the classroom incident that gets mild-mannered English instructor Andy Campbell (Day) crossways with hot-tempered history teacher Ron Strickland (Cube). Day is slight, white and whiney; Cube is thick, dark and growly. They’re so temperamentally and physically at odds, anything they do together is practically pre-set to be funny.

To add to the comedic recipe for disaster, the fight isn’t all that’s looming for Campbell. His wife is pregnant and about to pop any minute. Rumors of school cutbacks are swirling, and he’s got a meeting with the superintendent at 2 p.m. to find out if his job is among them. Right after that, his daughter has a recital at her middle school, and he’s promised he’ll be there to join her in a dance routine from the musical Annie.

And it’s senior prank day. There are paint bombs on trip wires, classroom TV sets hijacked to show porn, naughty anatomical patterns landscaped into the grass of the soccer field, a mariachi band following the principal everywhere he goes, and a horse galloping down the hallways.

Tracy Morgan & Jillian Bell

Tracy Morgan & Jillian Bell

Director Richie Keen, a TV trouper making his first feature film, worked with Day on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and he packs the screen with familiar faces from other television shows. Saturday Night Live veteran Tracy Morgan, making his first movie appearance since his near-fatal 2014 auto accident, gets laughs as a wacky coach. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) plays a freaky French teacher. Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris is the exasperated principal. Kumail Naujiani (Portlandia, Silicon Valley) plays the school’s by-the-books security officer. Young & Hungry’s Kym Whitley has a cameo as a 911 call center dispatcher—who gets a good laugh at Campbell’s unusual predicament.

Stephnie Weir from Crazy Ex-Girfriend has a moment as a school official. JoAnna Garcia Dahl, who plays Ariel in Once Upon a Time, is Campbell’s wife. Young Alexa Nisenson, 11, who made her movie debut last year in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, plays Campbell’s daughter, who ditches Annie at the last minute for an explosively raw rap song by Big Sean that makes the talent show scene from Little Miss Sunshine look as quaint and sedate as something from Lawrence Welk.

Jillian Bell, whom you’ll probably recognize from several other R-rated movies (22 Jump Street, The Night Before, Bridesmaids) and numerous TV roles (Workaholics, Idiotsitter, Supermansion), brings her comedy-gold blend of deadpan delivery, raunchy spunk and fearless improv to Holly, the school’s hilariously misguided guidance counselor.

FIST FIGHT

This is Day’s show, and he does a nice job, channeling a comedic mojo that feels like a strain of easygoing, Steve Carell-ish everyman hot-wired with Casey Affleck’s unpredictable intensity. Cube doesn’t get near as much to do, but he does get to shine in very funny scene where the rumors about his fearsome teacher come colorfully to life as students tell of what they’ve heard about him and his past—soldier assassin, violent drug lord, renegade cop, crazy jazz pianist.

The jokes fly, but there’s some serious, timely messaging here, too—mainly about “the depths to which the school system has fallen,” as noted on one of the news channels covering (by helicopter!) the “#teacherfight,” which becomes a worldwide viral sensation driven and promoted by memes, Twitter, YouTube and other social media. Pick an education topic—inclusiveness, bureaucracy, job insecurity, funding, resources, bullying, drugs, vandalism, student behavior issues—and it’s there, in between the laughter.

Campbell has three scenes in front of his English classes, throughout the day, in which we see him unravel a bit more each time, becoming progressively more rattled as his appointment in the parking lot looms. Can he rally and rise to the challenge?

See you in the parking lot at 3 o’clock to find out!

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The Gangsta Life

‘Straight Outta Compton’ tells the ‘real’ N.W.A. story

Straight Outta Compton

Aldis Hodge (MC Ren), Neil Brown Jr. (DJ Yella), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason MItchell (Eazy-E) and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube) star in ‘Straight Outta Compton.’

 

Straight Outta Compton

Starring O’Shea Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins & Paul Giamatti

Directed by F. Gary Grey

R

Spawned from the mean streets of Compton, Calif., in the late 1980s, the controversial original “gangsta rap” act N.W.A. sent shock waves across America and spawned a commercial empire.

Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren created tough, provocative, dangerous-sounding music that modeled and mirrored the harsh realities of their time and place: drugs, crime, violence, racial discrimination, police brutality. How dangerous-sounding? Well, even their name had to be muzzled (the letters stood for Niggaz With Attitude), and one of their most “popular” songs, “F— the Police,” caught the attention of the FBI.

Straight Outta Compton

Hassled by police outside a recording studio.

N.W.A.’s rags-to-riches rise from the “ghetto” of southern Los Angeles County to the top of the music world is a classic tale of ambition, vindication and escape. Their crash-and-burn breakup—into angry bits of bruised egos, bad decisions and broken, betrayed friendships—was the fractured flip side to a decade of high living, heavy partying and the huge sprawl of the musical juggernaut they’d built from scratch.

Straight Outta Compton captures that—much of it, anyway. The beats are fly, the story is nitty-gritty and the timing is spot-on, with the movie’s release coming at a moment in time when a growing movement in America pushes back, once again, against police violence against unarmed blacks.

A young cast of newcomers does a fine job portraying the group. O’Shea Jackson Jr., the son of real-life rapper Ice Cube, plays his own father, and he certainly looks the part—he’s almost a perfect clone. Jason Mitchell is electrifying as Eazy-E, the diminutive, street-hustling, dope-peddling “investor” who became the frontman of N.W.A. after hooking up with Cube and production wizard Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins).

The two other members, DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), are relegated to the sidelines, however. Maybe that’s because executive producers Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the wife of the late Eazy-E were more interested in telling “their” story.

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Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti’s towering white swoop of a hairpiece competes for attention in his role as Jerry Heller, the manager who steered the group to stardom—and into a crooked contractual labyrinth that eventually split them apart.

The movie credits N.W.A. as the architects of hardcore, “real” street rap. But it doesn’t depict them as saints: They spew profanity, take drugs, sling guns and indulge in the orgiastic excesses that you might expect of cocky young rock gods. There are moments of humor to lighten some of the heavier moods. At two and a half hours, it gets a bit overloaded in the final stretch with plot offshoots and cameo appearances by characters playing rappers Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur and record producer “Suge” Knight, depicted by the film as a bullying, brutish thug.

But in its recreations of live performances or studio sessions, and in other moments when its explosive songs kick it, the movie really comes alive, reminding us of just how shocking, raw and impactive N.W.A.’s music was 25 years ago—and how powerfully it echoes even today.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Back To School

Bumbling drug-busting cop duo returns for hilarious higher-ed hijinks

Jonah Hill;Channing Tatum

22 Jump Street

Starring Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

R, 112 min.

 

In a summer of sequels, the most laughs so far, and by far, come from a raunchy retro repeat that makes plenty of fun of its own recycled folly—and expense.

And it totally works. A follow-up to the 2012 hit comedy 21 Jump Street, a big-screen parody of the TV series of the late 1980s, this do-over reunites the duo of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), bumbling undercover-cop partners again trying to pass themselves off as students, only this time at a college instead of a high school.

The silly shoestring of a plot involves Jenko and Schmidt’s task to break up a dangerous drug pipeline called “WhyPhy,” which has caused the death of a coed. But that’s really just a loosey-goosey framework for a goofy R-rated grab bag of jokes, puns, sight gags and riffs, many of which are truly hilarious, as the two would-be students try to infiltrate campus life.

Channing Tatum“I’m the first person from my family to pretend to go to college,” says Jenko.

Most of the humor revolves around their attempts at blending in, especially since everyone notices immediately how much older they are than everyone else. (“Tell us about the war—any one of them,” prods one student.) But Schmidt impresses his classmates at an improv slam-poetry event (“Jesus died, runaway bride” is one of his on-the-fly couplets), and Jenko relives his teenage fantasy of becoming a football star, befriending the school’s dude-ish quarterback (Wyatt Russell, the son of Goldie Hawn and Curt Russell) and setting up a “bro-mantic triangle” subplot.

Jonah Hill;Channing TatumPatton Oswald pops up in one scene as a professor trying to coax coherent thoughts out of Tatum’s character’s thick head, and the Comedy Central duo of the Lucas Brothers, identical twins Kenny and Keith, make the screen hum with groovy energy every second they’re onscreen as laid-back, comically synchronized roommates.

Returning as Capt. Dickson, rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube still gets howls with his scowl and plays a pivotal role in one of the movie’s funniest scenes—a “gotcha” that truly sneaks up on you, which is a testament to the craft of returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose other collaborations include Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The LEGO Movie.

A recurring theme is an in-joke about just how lazy (and pricey) it is to just do the same thing over again—in this case, the same characters, same plot, same directors. “Exactly like last time,” dryly notes Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman from TV’s Parks and Recreation.

1178499 - 22 Jump StreetA chase across the campus—with drug lords in a Hummer pursuing Jenko and Schmidt in a little cart with an enormous football helmet “cab”—destroys everything in its path. At one point, the cart comes to a split: Which way should it go?

“Whichever way’s cheaper!” Jenko shouts.

The bawdy comedy tap runs wide open in 22 Jump Street. It may be a ridiculously expensive retread, but man, just about every jolly dollar gets a laugh.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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A Bumpy Road

Idiotic Ice Cube buddy comedy covers well-worn movie terrain

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Ride Along

Starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart

Directed by Tim Story

PG-13, 100 min.

Ah, the buddy-cop action comedy—where would Hollywood be without it?

Well, we’d certainly be without this idiotic pair-up and its many better predecessors, from Beverly Hills Cop to Men in Black.

After all the “prestige” pictures, the heavy lifters, of any previous year are on their hopeful way to awards-ville, January is when Hollywood takes a load off and lets the dogs out, returning to a menu of table scraps and leftovers after the gut-busting big-screen excesses of the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holiday season.

Ride Along stars rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube as a gruff, tough Atlanta cop trying to derail the engagement of his sister (Tika Sumpter) to a high school security guard (Kevin Hart) whose ambition is to become a real policeman.

RA_3So James (Cube) invites Ben (Hart) to “ride along” with him on a typical day to prove he’s got the chops to be a cop—and to become his brother in law. Wouldn’t you just know they encounter all sorts of hilarity…and manage to crack the case of an underworld criminal warlord that James has been pursuing for years?

If it sounds like you’ve seen it all before, you have. The script, a group collaboration that feels like a sampler platter of mismatched-partner ideas, checks off just about every cop-movie cliché in the book, walks into one predictable situation after another, and grabs for every low-hanging joke-fruit that comes within reach.

Everybody makes a crack about Ben’s diminutive size (“He’s about a chromosome away from being a midget,” grumbles James). There are “comedic interludes” outside a biker bar, inside a strip club and at a shooting range. The big, explosive showdown-shootout happens—where else?—in an abandoned warehouse.

Non-Stop

Kevin Hart

Hart’s a funny guy, although I can certainly see how his high-pitched, screechy, hyperactive, slapstick-y, infantile shtick might not be some people’s cup of tea. He’s clearly the star of the show, although Ice Cube might get the bigger billing.

Director Tim Story, who directed two Fantastic Four movies plus the comedies Barbershop and Think Like a Man, fares much better here with the humor than the action, which is clumsy and clunky in contrast to the film’s easier, more natural riffs and rhythms when Cube and Hart are playing off each other.

None of the people who hooted and howled at the screening I attended appeared to be the least bit troubled that Ride Along, its high-spirited ha-ha’s punctuated with gunfire and bullets, was released as the nation was absorbing news of the latest school shootings, in Roswell, N.M., and Philadelphia, Pa., and just a couple of weeks after one movie patron pulled out a gun and killed another in Tampa, Fla.

Laughter, it’s been said, can be a healing force. There’s nothing as lofty, or as noble, as healing in Ride Along—just a quick roll in a barrel of cheap, hollow laughs down a familiar, forgettable road that we’ve traveled many times before.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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