Friday, March 30, 2012

Going Down to Jump Street. 21 JUMP STREET.

21 JUMP STREET Review:

- On paper, a 21 Jump Street movie seems like a pretty terrible idea. But in practice, the new film succeeds by having essentially nothing to do with the TV show on which it's based. What this movie does is take the basic premise of the old FOX show - young police officers sent back to high school as undercover students - and mines that premise for all of its inherent comic potential. Instead of a trying-to-be-cool-and-edgy teen drama, we now have a completely over-the-top and ridiculous comedy. And somehow, it works. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make for a great comedic duo, and they're surrounded by very funny people like Nick Offerman, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, and a funniest-he's-ever-been Ice Cube. There's fast-paced action mixed in with the comedy. There are sly nods to the old TV show. And the script is sharp and funny. The result is that 21 Jump Street is one of the funniest movies of the year so far.

The setup here is that Jonah Hill plays Schmidt, who was the awkward chubby kid in high school, and is now an only slightly less awkward and still chubby rookie cop. Channing Tatum plays Jenko, who was the cool, dumb jock in high school and is now, also, a rookie cop. Freed from the shackles of high school cliques, Schmidt and Jenko become buddies - both are eager to rise through the ranks and become badass cops, but both have limitations. Schmidt is out of shape and timid, Jenko is, well, intellectually challenged. And so, they are a perfect match in many ways. But just as the unlikely pair is beginning to show some promise in the field, they are picked - for their youthful looks (or as Ice Cube says, because they are some Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber-looking mother%$#&'ers) to be sent down to Jump Street. 21 Jump Street. And it's there that they're secretly assigned to pose as students in a local high school, where a new designer drug is spreading rapidly through the student body. Schmidt and Jenko are charged with weeding out the dealers and the suppliers and busting up the ring.

Of course, even as they try to crack the case, Schmidt and Jenko are forced to relive high school. The twist is that their manufactured identities get mixed up, so the geeky Schmidt is forced to take drama classes and do track and field, and dim-bulb Jenko is enrolled in AP chemistry classes, where he's surrounded by the school's brightest (and nerdiest) brainiacs. Meanwhile, the two discover that high school is a lot different than back when they were actual teens. And that is where some of the movie's funniest - and most on-point - humor comes from. It's hilarious to see these twenty-something guys try to wrap their brains around the new order of things - where the popular clique looks a lot different than it did back in the day. I know I had to laugh at Schmidt's observations of how his nerdiness actually makes him sort of cool in today's high school ecosystem - I've often felt the same ... I wasn't a geek, just ahead of my time! But there's some really funny observational humor to be found in looking at how high school has changed in recent years.

And like I said, Hill and Tatum are in top form here. Hill's comic timing is as good as ever, if not better, and Tatum shows that he's no slouch either - delivering some side-splittingly funny lines, and overall just having a great buddy-cop/odd couple chemistry with Hill. And again, the supporting cast is just loaded with top-notch comedy talent, although it's also worth mentioning that there are some nice breakout performances here as well. Dave Franco (brother of James), for one, is quite good as the somewhat sinister popular kid who strikes up a friendship with Schmidt. There are also some great cameos - semi-expected, perhaps, but no less cool.

Ultimately though, the movie's script is just plain funny. The interplay between the leads is consistently great, and a good portion of the jokes hit their mark. I was reminded of a lot of the sweet-yet-salty tone of many a Judd Apatow-produced movie, as, tonally, this is very similar to Superbad and the like. The movie goes to some wonderfully random and absurdist places. Ice Cube has some amazing angry rants. Nick Offerman gets to do some brilliant meta-jokes. And, without spoiling anything, I'll just say that the movie uses the comedy "rule of three's" to great effect.

Now, I do think there are some noticeable lulls in the laughter. And at times, the movie seems to get a little too contrived - with some of the tension between Schmidt and Jenko feeling a bit overdone, and the romantic subplot with Schmidt and a high school girl feels a little bit off (and slightly creepy).

By the time the film ended though - with strong hints at a sequel - I had more than enough goodwill towards it that the continued adventures hinted at did indeed pique my interest. This is ultimately just a really well-done comedy with a funny premise and a great cast. Not perfect, but still - damn good.

My Grade: B+

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