Family Filmgoer reviews ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ and ‘22 Jump Street’

June 12
8 and older

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG). Fine for most kids 8 and older, this sequel revisits much of the fun and excitement of the first animated 3-D film, if not the surprise of it. The peace-loving adventures of the young dragon trainer Hiccup and his pet dragon, Toothless, take a new, more grown-up turn. It’s been nearly five years since Hiccup forged a happy peace between his Viking village, Berk, and the flying, fire-breathing dragons, who now live among the people. Hiccup’s big-shouldered father, Stoick, the village chief, wants to groom his gentle son to succeed him, but Hiccup dreads this. While Hiccup and his sort-of girlfriend, Astrid, are out exploring with their dragons, they meet scary Viking sailors who trap dragons at the behest of a rogue warrior named Drago Bloodfist. On hearing this news, Stoick prepares the village for war. Ever the peacemaker, Hiccup decides to meet Drago first and try to avert any bloodshed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: There is some crude toilet humor and mild comic sexual innuendo. Drago and his huge, destructive “alpha” dragon are grimly evil and the battle scenes are strongly dramatic. Spoiler alert: Near the end, there is a sad death of a key character and a funeral.

PG-13

The Fault in Our Stars. Teens in love with the bestselling book, a love story about two young people who have cancer, will likely approve of the adaptation, even if it doesn’t include every bit of the novel. The irony and sarcasm used by Hazel (Shailene Woodley), the 16-year-old who is the film’s narrator, remains strong, yet the overall effect will still leave teens in tears. Hazel — sick with cancer that has spread to her lungs, depressed and always attached to a portable oxygen tank — meets the smiley but sarcastic Gus (Ansel Elgort) at a teen cancer support group. He has lost a leg to the disease. They fall into instant mutual adoration, supported by Hazel’s parents, especially her mom. The disease doesn’t leave Hazel or Gus alone. The film concludes on a note of shattering loss, then a bit of hope.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A non-explicit sexual situation begins with kissing on a bed and ends with removal of a bra, seen only from the back. The language is only occasionally crude or profane, with one strong use of the F-word. Hospital scenes are not graphic, but they do involve long needles and distraught parents. Hazel is shown to be very ill in flashbacks, and Gus’s illness becomes briefly graphic near the end.

Edge of Tomorrow. This is a nifty blast of summer entertainment with an ingeniously twisted plot. In a grim future, the world is at war with invading aliens that look like wiry, metallic giant squid or spiders. It opens as Tom Cruise, a slick military press officer named Cage, is forced into combat despite his lack of training or, for that matter, courage. He’s berated by a drill sergeant, assigned to a tough-looking unit, and killed in his first battle with alien forces. Then he wakes up and does it all again — over and over. Cage seems to be the only person experiencing deja-vu, until he meets Rita, a soldier who recognizes his story.

The bottom line: The battle scenes are loud and full of violent death and destruction, yet virtually gore-free. In quieter moments, we see the main characters nursing injuries. The dialogue includes occasional barnyard profanity and rare mild sexual innuendo.

The Grand Seduction. Teen moviegoers who appreciate quieter humor may take to “The Grand Seduction.” The folks in Tickle Cove, a tiny fishing village whose waters have been fished out, must trick a young doctor into moving there, which would clear the way for a new factory to open and create jobs. When their prey arrives, he’s a plastic surgeon doing a month of community service after airport officials catch him with a bit of cocaine in his luggage.

The bottom line: The movie starts and ends with the sounds of married couples in the village making love, and there are steamy but non-graphic conversations about sex. The dialogue features occasional mild profanity and drug references. Characters drink a lot.

The Signal (PG-13). A nifty little horror/sci-fi thriller that’s fine for most teen aficionados, “The Signal” feeds on faking its audience out — switching from pure horror to pure sci-fi and back, then mixing them up, then playing with time and space. Two computer whizzes from MIT — Nic, who gets around on crutches, and his buddy, Jonah — are driving Nic’s girlfriend, Haley, out west. Along the way, Nic and Jonah track down a  hacker who broke into MIT’s computers and has, of late, been hacking them. They sneak by night into the guy’s desert shack. There’s a violent occurrence, then a blackout. Nic awakes in a stark white lab. Everyone except him wears a HAZMAT suit. A smooth lead investigator (Laurence Fishburne) interviews Nic about his encounter with “extraterrestrial biological entities,” but Nic remembers nothing and rages against his interrogator. Nic tries to find Jonah and Haley so they can all escape. Things get curiouser and curiouser.  

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Most of the violence and bizarre circumstances are implied rather than graphic, but some scenes  do show rooms smeared with blood. A climactic shootout does not show gory injuries, and a weird experiment with a cow is merely menacing. Key characters wake up to find their legs or arms replaced with oddly made prosthetics.There is much use of the S-word.  

13 and older

Ping Pong Summer (unrated). All the teen coming-of-age-movie elements are present in “Ping Pong Summer” — pretty girls, a big bully, a new best friend, a snarky older sister, nice but sometimes embarrassing parents, and an almost unachievable goal. The pleasant but modest result, weakened by amateurish acting in key younger roles, is a film more likely to warm the hearts of nostalgic adults, though it’s fine for teens. The setting is Ocean City, Md., circa 1985, and Maryland-bred filmmaker Michael Tully has ably replicated the atmosphere on a budget. The shy hero, 13-year-old Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte), comes for vacation with his state-trooper dad, frugal mom and sullen sister. Rad loves boomboxes, hip-hop and ping pong. He becomes instant friends with Teddy (Myles Massey), who shares his passions. A rich older kid, Lyle, gives the boys a really hard time, so Rad hones his ping pong skills with the town loner (Susan Sarandon) in hopes of beating Lyle in a grudge match and winning his girlfriend. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: The bully and his pal engage in occasional racial and homophobic insults aimed at Rad and especially Teddy, who’s African American. They also use mild profanity. The boys hear the muffled sounds of a couple having sex. The script includes a subtle masturbation joke and drug references. Adults and older teens drink.

R

22 Jump Street.Doofus cop partners Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) return in a not-for-under-17s sequel that brings the raunch and bad language as generously as the hit 2012 movie. Schmidt is smart, but geeky, out of shape and easily hurt. Jenko is great looking, athletic and not too bright. Their profane captain (Ice Cube) still thinks they’re idiots, but sends them on a new undercover assignment, this time to a college to pose as over-age freshmen. They need to find the source of a new recreational drug. The film’s whole conceit is to frame the friendship between Schmidt and Jenko as a romance, minus the sex. Then Jenko abandons Schmidt to join the football team and Schmidt falls for a coed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Strong profanity is a constant, as is crude verbal and gestural humor about sex. The film is full of homo-erotic and sometimes homophobic jokes, yet the script often pauses to preach against homophobia. Mayhem includes gunplay, mostly with minor injuries until a bloodier shoot-out at the end, fights and chases with the guys hanging precariously off a truck and a helicopter.

Obvious Child.  In this adult, not-for-under-17s character comedy, a talented but still struggling stand-up comic, Donna (Jenny Slate), tumbles through a depressing series of life crises: Her boyfriend dumps her, after confirming he’s been sleeping with her friend; her day job disappears when her boss shutters the bookstore; her career hiccups after she does a boozy, depressive, unfunny set at the comedy club; she hooks up with a near-stranger after the set; and a month later she realizes she’s pregnant. She refuses to let the hook-up guy, who seems to be quite nice, get closer to her and doesn’t tell him what’s going on. Other than that, everything’s great. 

THE BOTTOM LINE:   The profanity is nonstop and very strong, as is the crudely graphic sexual language. Donna also drinks a a lot.  Spoiler alert: Unlike the plot resolutions in most American films about unexpected or unwanted pregnancies, the protagonist in “Obvious Child” goes through with having an abortion. 

17 and older

We Are the Best! (Unrated). For rock ’n roll-loving moviegoers 17 and older, this edgy, ebullient little movie from Sweden (with English subtitles) could be an unexpected treat. Set in Stockholm in 1982 and based on a graphic novel by director Lukas Moodysson’s wife, Coco Moodysson, it follows the mini-rebellion of three 13-year-old girls determined to be punk rockers, and often feels a little improvised. The bespectacled Bobo, her hair chopped short, and the mohawk-sporting Klara could be mistaken for boys at first, but they get a minor amount of bullying and no criticism from their parents. Their school has a music practice room with drums and electric guitars. They get the teachers to push out a band of older boys so they can use it, too. When they hit a creative wall, Klara and Bobo recruit Hedvig, a quiet, religious girl who plays classical guitar, to help them. All three become pals, as adolescence, artistic urges and the world of boys collide. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: The language is very strong, but there is only mild sexual innuendo. Older teens are shown drinking and smoking at a party given by Klara’s big brother. The younger girls drink there and Bobo gets sick. When they perform their song about hating sports in a suburban gym, the audience calls them obscene names.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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