by Steve Habrat
Rumor has it that Side Effects, the slinky, sexy new psychological thriller from busybody director Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike) will be his final motion picture. If this is true, Side Effects is certainly a high note to bow out on. An edge-of-your-seat exercise that would please Alfred Hitchcock, Side Effects threatens to take aim at prescription drugs and the long lists of side effects that may come with taking them, but half way through, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns decide to double cross the viewer. What comes next is a glossy, upper-class murder mystery that creeps up behind you and sends a chill down your spine. It certainly isn’t the film you expect it to be, mostly because Side Effects has been advertised as a hazy tale of prescription drug side effects spiraling those who pop the anti-depressant Ablixa, the fictional drug prescribed to those suffering from depression within the film, into a murderous daze. You will be surprised by what the filmmakers have in store for you and, more importantly, you will not be able to resist the sensual pull of the story. And then there is the haunting performances, mostly from the unpredictable Rooney Mara, who constructs another firecracker of a character.
Side Effects follows 28-year-old Emily Taylor (Played by Rooney Mara), the wife of Martin Taylor (Played by Channing Tatum), who recently returned home after serving a 4-year prison sentence for insider trading. As Martin figures out a way to get their lives back on track, Emily suddenly attempts to commit suicide. After recovering, Emily is sent to Dr. Jonathan Banks (Played by Jude Law), a psychiatrist who puts Emily on a number of anti-depressants that appear to do nothing for her. With every option exhausted and Emily still contemplating suicide, Jonathan decides to put Emily on the experimental drug Ablixa. Ablixa appears to be helping Emily and her life with Martin seems to be getting back on track, but one evening, Emily viscously attacks Martin in a daze. Emily is arrested for the attack and the police begin an investigation that could threaten Jonathan’s practice. Growing desperate to get to the bottom of the mysterious attack, Jonathan seeks out Victoria Siebert (Played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily’s former psychiatrist who offers up disturbing new information. As Jonathan digs deeper into Emily’s past, he stumbles upon secrets that will not just destroy his career, but also shatter his happy marriage.
Side Effects turns out to be a very difficult film to review, as the second half of the film is ripe with surprises, some being very clever and some flirting with silliness. The film really gets by on its element of surprise and its best you don’t know much about the story going in. Despite some far-fetched touches to the script, the film does keep you intrigued with where it is going to slither off to next. If Side Effects turns out to be Soderbergh’s last film, he can retire knowing that he delivered an extremely well-made film. Some scenes begin out of focus, with characters or objects slowly revealing themselves to the viewer. It is a nifty touch that subtly mirrors the secrets of the plot slowly becoming clear to the viewer. It also gives the film a surreal feel, making the lavish New York City penthouses, offices, and apartments seem chillingly distorted or generally off-putting. Soderbergh then drenches the sets in a warm orange glow with plenty of ominous shadows creeping over the characters, their lavish worlds slipping into a darkness. Then there is the inescapable erotic atmosphere that hangs over the shady events, a seductive mood complimented by sexy trip-hop tunes on the soundtrack. It certainly is a hip and pretty package that is eager to compliment its four photogenic leads.
Bringing the sexual sparks she brought to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara sizzles once again as the glassy-eyed Emily, a woman drunk on wealth and distraught over it disappearing in the blink of an eye. She is bone chilling as she descends into bizarre sleepwalking spells that find her fixing dinner for three even though she has no children with Martin (another plot twist that rattles the viewer). When she blankly jabs the knife into Martin’s stomach, more than a few people in the showing I attended jumped and erupted in horror and disbelief at what was occurring. It is clear that Mara is aware that she is very good at doing crazy and she really brings the crazy here. It is said that Blake Lively was originally up for the role of Emily but thankfully it went to someone with more talent. Tatum does a fine job as the confused yet understanding husband, who is well aware of the grief he has brought on Emily. He is given a supporting role here but he doesn’t resort to phoning the performance in. Law wins us over as a victim caught up in a web of lies and deceit. You really feel for him as his life crashes down around him and you’ll smile to yourself as he devises way to stay one step ahead of those trying to bring him down. Zeta-Jones is as vampy as ever as the sinister Victoria, a woman who acts as if she wants to help the troubled Emily any way she can yet conceals disturbing behavior in the past.
At an hour and forty-five minutes, Side Effects is practically over in the blink of an eye because, frankly, there is never a dull moment. Soderbergh is constantly framing a fascinating image, capturing a spine-tingling performance, or making the hair on your arm stand at attention when Emily slips into a daze. You can’t shake the feeling that the film would have fared better if it would have kept its attention on prescription drugs and their seemingly never-ending list of side effects. Still, Soderbergh and Burns refuse to dumb themselves down in the second act even if they do get a bit carried away with a certain relationship (you’ll see what I mean). Overall, Side Effects is a surprisingly beefy film that is glaringly out of place for this time of year. A handsomely made and clean-cut thriller that isn’t afraid to send the viewer away deep in thought. Side effects may include your stomach twisting into knots, a desire to see it twice, an unwillingness to take any medication you may be on, and an incurable fear of Rooney Mara. See it before all the surprises have been spoiled.
by Steve Habrat
How good it is to have the buddy cop movie back in action, brushing off the cobwebs that have formed over the tired genre all these years. Maybe it’s the odd couple pairing of funny guy Jonah Hill and chiseled Channing Tatum that gives the buddy cop genre fresh life and sends 21 Jump Street to soaring heights that I would have never thought possible! This revamped take on the 80’s television series gorges on pop culture references and classic action flicks all while leaving its own mark with its raunchy, rambunctious personality. At this party, anything goes, ranging from perfectly placed cameos, high speed action, and more toilet humor than you can shake a shot off penis at! 21 Jump Street’s keep-the-party-going mentality does get a bit exhausting at a few points, but the fatigue is quickly shaken by the uncertainty over what the film will throw at us next.
21 Jump Street picks up in 2005 where we meet nerdy Schmidt (Played by Jonah Hill), who looks like a slouchy Eminem without the rage and the jock bully Jenko (Played by Channing Tatum) as they near the end of their high school careers. Jenko can’t keep his grades up and therefore can’t attend the school prom. Schmidt, meanwhile, is trying to work up the nerve to ask the girl of his dreams to the prom, only to be coldly shot down and laughed at. The film speeds ahead to present day, where Schmidt and Jenko are currently attending a police academy and earning their badges. The two bump into each other and strike up a friendship despite the fact that Jenko bullied Schmidt in high school. They aid each other through the police academy and finally earn their badges, but after botching a drug bust, they are sent to 21 Jump Street. It is here that they meet their new scowling boss Captain Dickson (Played by Ice Cube) and learn they are going undercover at a local high school to bust up a drug ring. The two begin trying to infiltrate the group of kids they believe to be dealing the drugs, but they soon find themselves losing sight of their mission and get caught up reliving their glory days.
There is plenty of Hill’s trademark off-the-cuff adlibs to keep the audience in stitches through much of 21 Jump Street and the surprisingly funny Tatum matches Hill every step of the way. They are absolutely hysterical together watching their opposite personalities clash was a riot. Their chemistry keeps the audience giddy through much of the film and they are always making sure that you have a smile slapped across your face. It is clearly their show and everyone else makes sure that they don’t step on their toes, especially an insanely likable Ice Cube, who finally gets to release a few bellowing F-bombs that he has been bottling up inside while he has been starring in kiddie flicks. Then there is the supporting cast that is made up of Ellie Kemper as the tongue tied science teacher Ms. Giggs, who has the hots for Jenko, Nick Offerman as straight shooting Deputy Chief Hardy, Chris Parnell as ostentatious theater teacher Mr. Gordon, and Rob Riggle as the wacky motor-mouth coach Mr. Walters. The beauty is that every guest comedian gets a moment to shine, a chance to be center stage and leave his or her own mark in 21 Jump Street.
Much of 21 Jump Street plays around with the idea of reliving your glory days, when you didn’t have a care in the world. Schmidt suffers from never having taken a risk and never having much confidence in himself. When he goes undercover at the high school, he quickly works his way in with the cool kids and begins living the popular kid dream. Jenko, on the other hand, had way too much fun on his first run and now finds himself spending his evenings with the nerdy crowd, people he would have laughed at and tormented when he was in school. It is a knee slapping role reversal and it consistently works. Seeing Tatum play nerd is comedic gold but it is Hill who really turns up the funny, slowly finding himself infatuated with instant messenger and texting. He even gets a run at popular girl Molly (Played by Brie Larson), which adds a bubbly if a bit creepy romance aspect to the film.
Director’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller both keep 21 Jump Street zipping along making the finished product feel like a crazy party rather than a movie. It is ripe with nostalgia for rollicking action films and outrageously coarse teen comedies. They keep the film moving at a brisk pace, but at times, 21 Jump Street would hit a bump in the road that stalls the momentum the film naturally builds up. There are a few spots where the comedy isn’t as sharp as it was a few minutes earlier or even worse, a joke falls flat. Part of the problem is that both the directors and our leads fire off jokes so rapidly, it is hard to keep up and they begin getting lost in each other. This isn’t constant in 21 Jump Street and what a relief that is, but part of the problem may also lie in the fact that the film is a bit too long. An extended party sequence could have used a little trimming, as could a scene where Schmidt hangs out with teenage drug dealer Eric (Played by Dave Franco) at his home. But the film balances out with scenes like the uproariously funny car chase where our heroes, both wearing outrageous getups and zooming along in a driving school car, battle to be in control of the chase. It’s absolutely awesome, right down to the string of failed explosions that leave our heroes disappointed with each dud.
21 Jump Street may have a few dry spots but the film never looses our interest. You will be consistently entertained by it and you are left eager to see where they will take Schmidt and Jenko next, as I’m sure there will be another 21 Jump Street. The film also has an awesome cameo from original 21 Jump Street cast members Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, a sequence that almost steals all the thunder from Hill and Tatum. Be warned that 21 Jump Street is a ball of energy that will leave you choking on its dust if you are unable to keep up with it. I can’t say that you will walk away a better person when the credits roll on 21 Jump Street, but like the morning after a good party, you will stumble away breathless and energized, a little drained and dazed, raring to do it all again. That, my friends, is never a bad thing.