ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT MOVIES Movies Now

'22 Jump Street': Is it time to end the brand-name craze?

'22 Jump Street' is a hit at the box office, but did the brand name have anything to do with it?

With strong early word of mouth and solid reviews, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill's "22 Jump Street"  was poised to be a hit before Schmidt and Jenko even began their latest antics. When the film took in well over $20 million on Friday and wound up with a $60 million weekend -- more than the opening for any R-rated comedy besides "The Hangover 2" -- it bore out those blockbuster expectations.

There are plenty of reasons for the film's success:‎ its winking self-awareness, a likable pair of comedy stars‎, the touch of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the absence of anything else in that raunch-comedy vein (indeed, after a glut of R-rated comedies in recent summers, the output finally seems to have settled down.)

One factor you’re unlikely to hear in the list of reasons the movie became a hit is the "Jump Street" name itself. Sure, the franchise gets a clever poke or two in at the TV series of a quarter-century ago, making it funnier to those Marilu Henner types who remember it. And the movie's sequel status ensured that people knew what they were in for this time around.

But the truth is that this film franchise could have been called something else from the get-go and been just as successful. Did the “Jump Street” name help the original? Maybe? A tiny bit? Maybe not? For all the nostalgia we children of the '80s feel for the school-set action franchise (Johnny Depp! The "Married With Children" Fox era!), it ranked about No. 21 on the list of reasons to see that movie. Many of those younger or older than us, needless to say, didn't know the show existed in the first place.

The most compelling piece of evidence that a comedy hit of a certain size doesn’t need a presold name is the modern R-rated franchise to which this (and, indeed, all hit comedies of this ilk) are compared. "The Hangover" series was a totally original name that neither relied on nor needed a TV show people knew.

Of course the real reason that the “Jump Street” name was on there had less to do with marketing than internal Hollywood logic. A pitch meeting is a perilous thing, and studio executives greenlighting the first film took comfort in the fact that somewhere, at some time, something with this name had come out and attracted a few people to it. Studio executives like to know that if it all goes kablooey they have a plausible reason to point to ‎ ("well, it seemed like a good idea -- our market-research team said people loved the original!"). So a TV show remake, even when it's not a TV show remake, gets a greenlight.

(Sure, I guess, nominally the idea of undercover cops in a school might require a “reboot” tag for legal reasons.  But in a Hollywood culture that has replicated far more specific ideas with far fewer repercussions, this hardly seems like it would have been an insurmountable obstacle.)

I suppose none of this really matters. They could the film “Timbuktu Returns” as long as they put smart creators like Lord and Miller and beguiling performers like Tatum and Hill. Audiences will be happy, and studios will be happy too.

But still. For an industry so concerned about PR, this has always felt to me like a misstep, reinforcing to the casual observer that modern Hollywood lacks originality and just lazily relies on the efforts of its forbears -- even when such an idea is manifestly untrue. Audiences have demonstrated they don’t care what a movie is called as long as it’s funny. Doesn’t seem like a big leap for Hollywood to do the same.

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Artists and filmmakers make surprising leaps in 2014
    Artists and filmmakers make surprising leaps in 2014

    Exhibiting raw promise is one thing, but to exceed those initial flashes is something really special. Throughout this year, many filmmakers and performers were pressing on in remarkable ways, showing that even artists who have already exhibited notable skill, talent and accomplishment still...

  • Mark Olsen's best indie films of 2014
    Mark Olsen's best indie films of 2014

    Throughout the year people you thought you knew showed they were still full of surprises. In 2014, when some would see cinema as a storytelling mode and cultural force as an endangered species, these are vital signs of life. Here is Mark Olsen's top ten list of independent films:

  • Kenneth Turan's best films of 2014
    Kenneth Turan's best films of 2014

    What's the point of doing a 10 best list if you put only 10 films on it?

  • Daring films lifted the artform in 2014
    Daring films lifted the artform in 2014

    Like voices crying in the wilderness — rising above that vast wasteland of movie mediocrity — came the roar of the auteurs in 2014. A rangy group with varying aesthetics, they've left an indelible imprint on cinema despite the 400 or so of the marginal that clogged our theaters...

  • Everyone loses in a December deluge of films
    Everyone loses in a December deluge of films

    I try not to publicly argue with film legends, even those who are no longer alive. But when Mae West famously said that "too much of a good thing can be wonderful," she clearly was not considering a film critic's lot in December.

  • Goodbyes abound in 'Night at the Museum' as trilogy comes to an end
    Goodbyes abound in 'Night at the Museum' as trilogy comes to an end

    "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," otherwise known as "Night at the Museum 3," rates as more determinedly heartfelt than the first and not as witty as the second (and best). Also, no Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs this time around.

Comments
Loading