With the 1980s renaissance now in full swing, the one pattern that's finally established itself is that there is no pattern.
Every time a movie puts a check mark in the pass column, another film comes along and, well, flunks out. “21 Jump Street,” Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s revival of the Fox network's school-set cop series, was a solid success this weekend with a $35-million opening and a surprisingly all-ages audience. But the results don’t really prove much.
Among the more high-profile 1980s properties released in theaters over the last couple of years, two have now been successes ("The Karate Kid" and "Jump Street") three have been disappointments ("The A-Team," "The Thing" and "Fright Night") and two have landed somewhere in the middle ("Footloose" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street").
That hardly offers a definitive argument in favor of the reboot (and, in fact, a split decision makes a sort of contrarian case, since the rationale for bringing back the 1980s in the first place was that properties from that era would be automatically advantaged).
Still, there’s at least an inference to be made about what’s worked within the subgenre — movies whose tone showed an awareness of the original, not to mention how much times have changed since. The new “Jump Street” took a goofy idea and treated it with irreverence; in fact, it didn't pay much attention to the conventions of the original at all.
On the other hand, the original “A-Team" was also silly, but Joe Carnahan took its explosions and escapes so seriously audiences could only laugh at the contrast.
Even if another '80s movie never sees the light of day (and no such luck — “Red Dawn” is on its way later this year), the decade is coming back in other ways. You don't have to try too hard to see in "The Hunger Games" echoes of "The Running Man" and "Blade Runner. " And the upcoming "American Reunion" will strike many as (an attempt at) a 21st century blend of the youth comedy of "Revenge of the Nerds" and the adult nostalgia of "The Big Chill." And so on.
In other words, those who are wondering what the results for new releases will mean for the 1980s renaissance need not waste their time: That renaissance is already here.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: The new film "21 Jump Street." Credit: Sony Pictures.