Sometime around the end of World War II, all of the men disappeared from American movies, and they’ve been replaced by boys. The men used to do things like hold jobs, obey the speed limit, wear neckties and look after their families, but because none of this was especially entertaining, the Great American Boy appeared, and he’s ruled ever since. The GAB can be any age, and he likes to do the following things:
1. Offer a great crooked grin when he gets into trouble.
2. Charm women by, while at first being neglectful and irresponsible, ultimately saving the world from aliens.
3. Hang out with other GABs, which is always an occasion for a comic moment of gay panic, as when two GABs somehow end up in bed together, or hugging.
4. Drive all sorts of vehicles, preferably very fast, and often through crowded foreign marketplaces with sqwauking chickens.
5. Refuse to grow up or settle down, except in the very last seconds of certain Judd Apataow movies.
I love GABs, even when I want to smack them. I’ve just seen two wonderful GAB-fests: Edge of Tomorrow, which stars the tireless, iconic GAB Tom Cruise, and 22 Jump Street, a GAB buddy movie with the completely adorable Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Edge of Tomorrow is a relentless action movie which is much better than it has any need to be. Tom plays a cocky army officer who’s dragged into combat against an implacable army of snarling special effects, and after he’s spattered with alien blood, Tom somehow develops the ability to manipulate time, re-living the same day over and over again. Emily Blunt plays a fearless, buff war hero who helps Tom defeat the CGI monsters, but what really makes the movie soar is that, in order to keep re-living that same day, Emily has to constantly kill Tom, often by shooting him in the head. This device ends up being both charming and witty, like a sort of die-cute strategy.
Tom has, of course, based his career on playing GABs and he’s saved the planet from aliens in at least three other movies. Tom’s getting older, which is an asset, because it makes him seem a little less like he’s showing up at your door with a big smile and a line of vacuum cleaners. Emily is great, but the movie is clearly a little worried about having such a tough and accomplished female lead, so Emily manages to head into battle wearing full makeup and painstakingly streaked hair. Tom and Emily almost come across like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, because Emily’s so much smarter and Tom has to sputter and flail in order to keep up with her.
In 22 Jump Street, Channing and Jonah are right back playing inept detectives working undercover, this time as college students. Just like in the first Jump Street movie, part of the joke is that these guys can’t fool anyone. As one of the real college students remarks, “You guys look like you’re starring in a TV series called Hawaiian Dads.” Channing is a terrific GAB because he’s willing to play dumb, and because he looks basically like a neck with eyes. Jonah is an expert at playing the dejected spouse, especially when he’s out walking all by himself and taking careful little steps, like a nice Jewish geisha. Unlike the GABs in, say, the Fast and Furious movies, Channing and Tatum never try to act gritty or cool, or when they do, it’s hilarious. At one point, when Jonah is cautiously strapping himself into a harness, he tells Channing, “You know what’s cool? Safety.”
The very best thing in 22 Jump Street is a spectacular actress named Jillian Bell, who plays an extremely cranky, fed-up co-ed. She spends the whole movie insulting Channing and Jonah, and then kicking them and trying to shoot them. This is deeply satisfying, because as a woman married to a GAB, I can tell you that violence is sometimes the only answer. Because while there’s nothing cuter and more movie-ready than a GAB, sometimes a Great American Girl like myself needs a break, if you ask me.