Mar 19, 2012

Film Review: 21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, Totally Boss
21 Jump Street, the newest film to remake a television show, follows two young-ish looking cops as they go undercover in high school to break up a drug ring, which is contained at the moment but may soon spread.  Of course, 21 Jump Street is a remake of the show of the same name that followed the same basic premise. The similarities, however, end there, with the movie being decidedly less preachy and less Johnny Depp-y. The cops in question are played by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, two former high school classmates who did not
get along in school but have developed a close friendship in their police academy years. With high school once more a part of their lives, their friendship is tested as much as their policing acumen.

Now that the premise is good and described, let me just say that this is an incredibly funny movie, aided by an incredibly game and sharp cast.  Hill, who has waned in likability over his past few comedic efforts (Get Him to the Greek, The Sitter, Allen Gregory) but is back in full force as Schmidt, who finds that his values of tolerance and eco-friendliness that made him a dork in high school now make him popular. His wide-eyed astonishment and relishing of the spotlight is both hilarious and dangerous. Being a former nerd, he’s simply not equipped to handle all the responsibility and power being popular comes with. Ice Cube is great as ‘Angry Black Captain’ Dickson, which was unexpected. Brie Larson, who we haven’t seen much of since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, is perfect once again as the ultimate alternative-pretty-witty girl. There isn’t much for her to do in the movie, but she makes the most of her scenes. And there’s Dave Franco, fast-becoming our favorite Franco, as Eric, the coolest kid in school and also the leader of his affluent gang of drug pushers. They are all great, but the real standout performance in the film comes from Channing Tatum. He plays Jenko, a former cool kid who can’t seem to fit into the new world of YouTube and hipsters and sincerity that he finds himself in. He’s a sweet guy, but he’s been conditioned to think that coolness means suppressing your emotions and upping the cool, distant attitude that got him so far in his youth. Tatum, who in other films has seemed a bit dead-eyed, comes alive in his role as a dork in a jock’s body, giving a glimpse of the actor who was fresh, unrehearsed, and fun-loving in films like She’s the Man and Step Up. Finally, the Tatum that has always been evident in his charming and dopey interviews has come through on-screen.

Despite being very funny, the movie can be a bit of a mess, with plots that go nowhere and pacing that makes no sense. Ellie Kemper’s teacher character is heavily featured and then largely forgotten, which is a shame. Also, the whole story takes place over 30 days, but not enough time is shown elapsing, and too many things happen off-screen. Schmidt becomes the lead in a musical which he is suddenly able to perform. Jenko becomes a science wiz. Still, when all manner of sense and understanding is thrown out the window, the movie still manages to be funny and suspenseful. In recent years, films that have marketed themselves as Apatovian-Action-Comedies have tried to balance comedy and action, but few have actually succeeded. When it came to the action scenes, films like Get Smart and Pineapple Express couldn’t quite pass muster (Get Smart was unnecessarily violent, Pineapple Express was confusing and gross). 21 Jump Street, however, is surprisingly cohesive. When a character, dying and bloodied on the floor, makes a startling and heartfelt confession before his carotid artery pumps all the blood out of his body, it makes sense within the context of this very silly film. Similarly, an impromptu attempted-blowjob scene in the middle of a car chase makes total sense. This is, in large part, due to the screenplay. Actor/writer Michael Bacall has delivered a script that, while not totally understandable or tight, is tonally consistent, akin to his work as the screenwriter of cult-favorite Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. He actually infuses the ridiculous with pathos and some real insight into youth culture, where technology has made generations break up by years instead of decades.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that 21 Jump Street is the finest action comedy since Lethal Weapon, but it is really good. When you leave the theater, quite a few things are clear. Channing Tatum is awesome, this movie is awesome, and doves flying out of limos are awesome. So…much…awe.

Film Grade: A-
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