21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

’21 Jump Street’ is the latest action bromance comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. It is a loose sequel to the television series, also of the same name, which ran from 1987 – 1991. Truth be told, I made no connection to the TV series when I saw the trailer for the film. Nor did I know the show even existed until the moviegoing colleague I saw this movie with pointed it out to me. Is this sequel faithful to the Fox cable show? Does it defile the original? I don’t know. I don’t care. All I care about is whether or not the film version of ’21 Jump Street’ succeeds in its own comedic terms. And it does.

Schmidt (Hill) is a pudgy high schooler who wears braces, and stammers when he talks to girls. Jenko (Tatum), on the other hand, is the handsome jock that will most likely end up the school’s prom king at the end of the year. Years later, they find themselves at the same police academy. Jenko excels in his physical examinations, but struggles with passing his written exams. Schmidt is the opposite. They end up becoming friends and work together to overcome each other’s limitations. They are assigned the safe task of park patrol and manage to foul up a major drug bust. As a result, they are exiled to 21 Jump Street, a program in which cops, chosen for their youthful appearances, go undercover as high school students to stop criminal activity involving teenagers. Their mission, as directed to them by the highly profane Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) is to prevent the spread of a new synthetic drug by finding the supplier.

’21 Jump Street’ is pretty funny and on a par with ‘The Other Guys’, the 2009 buddy cop comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell. This movie belongs to Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. In previous years, I’ve found Channing Tatum to be stiff and dull on screen. I did, however, have a change of opinion when I saw Ron Howard’s highly underrated ‘The Dilemma’ from last year. Tatum was the show-stealer and demonstrated a gift for comic acting. And skinny Jonah Hill is as funny as fat Jonah Hill. The hunkiness of Tatum paired with the dorkiness of Hill feels completely organic, and the two create a believable friendship. The supporting cast is also (mostly) good. Ron Riggle plays a creepy Phys. Ed teacher. Brie Larson plays the girl with a big smile who might give Jonah Hill’s character the romantic possibility he was never able to have when he was in high school. Ellie Kemper plays a Chemistry teacher who takes a sexual interest in her student, the character played by Channing Tatum. It’s interesting seeing a middle-aged Ice Cube as a hilariously angry and profane cop. Let’s not forget the track Ice Cube collaborated with NWA on in the 1990s called “F$!% The Police”.

Credit to Michael Bacall for creating a very funny script that celebrates 80s movies clichés and manages to be a strange but effective combination of teen comedy and buddy/police comedy. In fact, ’21 Jump Street’ is probably the most perceptive film about “highschoolism” than any other teen comedy I can think of in recent memory, and it’s these scenes that work best. You see, high school in 2012 isn’t the same as it was in 2005. Teenagers are now environmentally friendly, they’ve realized that bullying isn’t cool, and this forces the two main characters to experience micro-generational deracination. And the film’s villain, who is a high school student, is one that is articulate, and ivy-league bound. Oh, how the times have changed.

What prevents ’21 Jump Street’ from achieving greatness? The film’s villain, played by Dave Franco (James Franco’s younger brother) is a little weak. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller don’t inject as much as much energy and excitement into the action sequences as they do the comedic material. Some of the humor is that of the lowest common denominator variety – ahem, penis jokes, and homophobia, ahem. The final sequence felt a bit too much like ‘True Romance’, but it could have been designed to pay tribute to that movie. Clocking at 109 minutes, ’21 Jump Street’ does feel about 15-20 minutes too long for the kind of movie it is.

Still, what we’re left with is 90% of a pretty good movie which is much more than we’re usually offered at the multiplex. This is a very good example of how formulae, in the right hands, can actually work. The screenwriters and directors are aware of their own ridiculousness – they’re turning what is universally considered a cheesy television series into a movie, but they’re having fun with it. Thanks to a great pairing of the two leads, and a very funny script that pays homage to the action comedies of yesteryear, ’21 Jump Street’ is clear about its intentions, and constantly winks at the audience whilst delivering big, verifiable laughs.  

– Jerry Nadarajah

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