Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Written by Michael Bacall
The beauty of the advance screening is that you don’t have to pay the ridiculous box office prices to be able to see a movie you may or may not have otherwise spent the money to see. For 21 Jump Street, I was in such a situation having had fixed feelings about the film based on the personnel and trailer, which made it seem like a fairly idiotic and immature film. Jonah Hill has been a favorite of mine since Superbad, though I understand he isn’t everybody’s. Channing Tatum on the other hand is the one that really had me dreading the possibilities of this film. As was voiced in my review of an earlier 2012 film, The Vow, he is just so wooden and emotionless as an actor. And also, how are they taking a Johnny Depp television program from the late 80s and making it into a comedy buddy movie?
Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) couldn’t be further from each other in high school. Jenko was the popular jock and Schmidt was the invisible nerd type with braces and a strange obsession with rapper Eminem. So when their paths cross at the Police Academy, they strike up an unlikely friendship, Jenko benefiting from Schmidt’s smarts and Schmidt benefiting from Jenko’s physical prowess. But when they bumble their way through their first arrest, they are relegated to the 21 Jump Street program, where they must infiltrate a high school, posing as students, to bring down the supplier of a new synthetic drug which has already claimed one kids life. But when they return to high school, they find things have changed in terms of what is popular.
From the very start I must say that I was surprised by the life and humor that came out of Channing Tatum. If you read through my thoughts on The Vow I expressed my dislike of Tatum as an actor, but wanted to say I have nothing against the man, some people just aren’t cut out to be actors, but this go around he seems to fill the role almost naturally. Now before going overboard I don’t want to build up the performance more than it needs to be, just that I was pleasantly surprised by it. I think the greatest compliment for a comedic role is that it looks like they are having fun in the film, and that can be said of both Tatum and Hill, which really makes for a fun ride.
The film really makes its laughs by playing against the stereotype. The popular kids are no longer the block headed jocks like Jenko was, but instead the smart, environmentally conscious, PC kids who are shoe-ins to Berkeley, the star of the drama club, and the openly gay African American. As Jenko puts it, the Glee influence ruined all that he knew of the high school hierarchy. But what makes the film work by using these characters is when Jenko mistakenly swaps the identities of he and Schmidt’s undercover names, setting him off to be the smart one taking AP Chemistry and Schmidt being the dumber jock type. The set-up is not groundbreaking, but it does allow for some really funny situations.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard in movie theater, though I am sure it was not as long ago as memory serves. And maybe it wouldn’t hold up a second time, but the supporting roles brilliantly filled by the likes of Ellie Kemper, Jake Johnson, Nick Offerman, Ice Cube and even Dave Franco (younger brother of James) and Brie Larson, who play the other high school students. Any good comedy seems to always be bolstered by a strong supporting cast. It is also very much of its kind, and what I mean by that is that it is idiotic and immature, but I am the demographic for that type of comedy being a 23 year old male. It does its thing fairly well, but I’m not sure it would ever be enough to convert those who despise this style of comedy. I just hope more people enter with an open mind to enjoy a pretty darn funny movie.
*** – Very Good