[Review] – 21 Jump Street

9 Apr

Title: 21 Jump Street
Year: 2012
Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall, based on a story by himself and Jonah Hill, based on the television series by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman
MPAA Rating: R, crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence
Runtime: 109 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 69

21 Jump Street is the funniest movie we’ve had since Bridesmaids. It truly is, and I wasn’t expecting it to be, so I was able to just be fully and awesomely surprised by what this one brought to the table. The film is, of course, based on the television series that launched a young Johnny Depp to fame and that ran from 1987 to 1991, and it has a really terrific sense of satire when it comes to referring to the that time and to the nostalgia that comes from revisiting the generic teen movie qualities that come with it. All of that while still being reverential to its source material, which no doubt Jonah Hill, who stars in this, wrote it and fought for it to get made, is very passionate about. That combination of the great action and the teen movie stuff and the eighties kind of satire is pure genius in this film.

Not to mention that, satirization of the eighties aside, this also happens to provide a tremendously effective modern commercial comedy, which people are certainly loving as evidenced by the $125 million and counting this one’s already grossed at the box office. The R-rated comedy stylings we’ve gotten so used to by now work like fireworks in this environment, because it’s an edgy kind of comedy, one that has some bite, and the talent assembled to deliver it in this film is pretty top-notch. This is one of those films that on paper just seems like Hollywood recycling yet another property, like yet another film you don’t really need; but it’s one of those very rare ones that, once you finally get to see it, you really do love it.

The great success of 21 Jump Street starts with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who team up to provide an unlikely comedic duo, but one that has terrific chemistry together and works up more than enough charm to get over whatever generic tropes this film works with from time to time. The combination, when you really think about it, actually makes some sense; Mr. Hill is the kind of guy you see doing R-rated comedy, but not action flicks, and Mr. Tatum is the exact opposite of that. Together they feed off each other’s strengths, and the newly-slim Jonah Hill is just awesome here, and Mr. Tatum really does great stuff, too, which is awesome because I had never really liked him before, and now I kind of get why Steven Soderbergh has wanted to collaborate with him in three consecutive movies.

Mr. Hill and Mr. Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, respectively, and the film makes use of how opposite the two actors are straight away. We have them shown in school, where Schmidt is a nerd people make fun of and Jenko is the typical dumb jock. Then we see them seven years later and they’re still pretty much the same while both enrolled in the police academy, with Schmidt doing great on the academic tests but failing his physicals and Jenko doing the opposite. Then their Captain, played by Ice Cube, enlists both as partners in the Jump Street unit, using their youthful looks to go undercover as Doug and Brad, two brothers, in a local high school to investigate a dangerous new drug ring.

I loved how on-the-nose this whole film was about how old these guys look back in school, and how it made fun of how obvious and improbable a number of other things here were. That tongue-in-cheek sort of quality really works in this one, thanks to a screenplay by Michael Bacall (Mr. Hill helped on the story), the same guy who helped adapt the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World film in 2010 into another brilliant self-aware film (to which I gave an A+ to), and to the direction from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs who made their live-action directing debut with this one. How it plays with the typical high school stereotypes, and how it shows Schmidt and Jenko having to adjust to living like teenagers and start coping all over again with all the issues they thought they had already gone through, is pretty great at showing how much high school life has changed in the past decade.

Dave Franco, brother of James, stars here as the dealer, who has Schmidt and Jenko actually try the drug in order to prove they’re not narcs. That gives way to one of the film’s funniest moments as both of the guys try to help each other puke the drug out of their system over a toilet. That was a big laugh for me, and I started realizing that this one offers a lot of those, and it had been quite some time since a film had offered true laugh-out-loud moments; the first half of this one alone offers more than most mainstream comedies.

You have Schmidt trying to fit in with the cool kids, and taking a romantic interest in the dealer’s maybe-more-than-just-a-friend Molly, who’s played by Brie Larson, an actress who’s been a favorite of mine since I first saw her in United States of Tara and that does a terrific job here, playing off Mr. Hill splendidly well. On the other hand you have Jenko, having trouble in his science class, befriending the nerds and having his teacher, played by the hilarious Ellie Kemper, develop a sexual infatuation with him.

I loved 21 Jump Street. It was a film that was way funnier than I ever thought it could be, one that proved to be quite sweet as well (it spends more time and seriousness in the possible romance between Schmidt and Molly than most films of its kind would have) and that’s super reverent to its source material as well as the John Hughes movies that so clearly influenced it, while still being able of taking the piss off those films and, quite often, of itself. Channing Tatum proves to be a talented comedic performer, with a great gift of deadpan, and Mr. Hill emerges as a new kind of movie star, something he started last year with his Oscar-nominated performance in Moneyball (my seventh favorite film of 2011), and the two provide the unlikely combo that makes this film one of the funniest I’ve seen in years.

Grade: A-

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2 Responses to “[Review] – 21 Jump Street”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies April 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    I need to see this – The positive reviews have really taken me by surprise

    • ArtfullyBedraggled April 9, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

      Definitely try and catch it, I expected the typical Hollywood reboot of eighties property and left out thinking it was one of the best films I have seen so far in 2012.

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