Friday, March 16, 2012

New Release Review: 21 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2012)

21 Jump Street takes its inspiration from the popular 80's television series of the same name, which made a star of Johnny Depp. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) and written by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street, while retaining the action, shifts away from the more serious tone of the television show and is more focused on the comedy, incorporating low-brow teen humour with plenty of pop culture references. Thankfully, there is enough energy provided by the two leads and several great sequences that tilt this inconsistent film in favour of the hits over the misses.

21 Jump Street is centered on Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill, in his first role since he cut the figure), who knew one another in high school, but only became close friends after meeting in Police College. Schmidt helps Jenko to pass his exams, while undergoing an intensive Jenko training regime to up his own personal fitness and toughness. After passing their exams and now operating as fully-fledged law enforcers, they badly botch an on-the-fly arrest attempt, which brought them out of their dull routine of fetching frisbees from the lake and wasting time, but results in their reassignment to 21 Jump Street, an undercover unit run out of an abandoned church featuring several youthful looking cops assigned to crack down on youth crime.

There, their hard-assed Captain, Dickson (Ice Cube, spouting angry abuse that felt horribly scripted), gives them an undercover mission to bust a synthetic drug ring operation at a local high school. They live with Schmidt’s overly affectionate parents and use the cover of two brothers. Their mission: locate the dealers, find the supplier, and most importantly, not get expelled. It is funny because this acts as a second chance for both of them. With nothing to lose but their careers, they have a chance to re-invent themselves, and on discovering that their school status levels have changed over the years, it is an opportunity that Schmidt particularly takes advantage of.

After a wayward opening, the film definitely hits its stride when the pair goes undercover. I found there to be some very clever writing, and some really lazy writing. It would have been nice to see some cause/effect earned, rather than feel so manipulated. While it is great to see Schmidt find himself as one of the cool kids, it came about following one of the film’s most immature scenes, and one I feel that is sporadically funny, but has no bearing on the story at all. I guess the film is inconsistent, because as aware as it is of popular culture, television sitcom (at one point Jenko blames the breaking down of the social hierarchies on ‘Glee’), teenage angst, and the buddy cop genre, it is also ridiculously chaotic. The film is not meant to be logical, but really, the first people they run into at their new school – a group of good-looking, articulate, sure-to-be-successful teens – end up being their primary leads? Come on. While the action-packed second half is fun, the film’s tone shifts on a dime and tense car chases come out of nowhere.

Having said that, Lord and Miller do handle the balance between comedy and action quite well, but the film’s best quality, and it is a surprising one, is its heart. This is the result of excellent work from the leads, which often saves the film from complete and utter idiocy. They provide plenty of energy, share great comedic chemistry, and faced with their identity confusion – escaping the humiliation of their past and having to accept where they fit into a new generation - results in several touching moments.

Thinking about it now, I actually haven’t seen Channing Tatum in many roles (if any), but he was very good here. I actually found him a lot funnier than the usually reliable Jonah Hill (outstanding a few years back in Superbad). Each of their characters, despite their stupidity, have a moving emotional arc and their friendship, put to the test by their undercover work, results in both of them having to face some honest truths about themselves. Hill is no stranger to embarrassing on-screen moments, but Tatum, whose career has mostly included dance flicks and action-blockbusters, displays surprising comedic chops.

Schmidt, shy and unpopular in high school, suddenly finds himself amongst the cool group and embraces the acceptance and the attention of a pretty girl, and ultimately gets in too deep with their primary lead to the supplier. His intelligence and rationality is smothered by his personal feelings. Jenko, a former popular jock and aggressive bully, finds that times have changed - nobody one-straps, and beating up people for no reason doesn’t cut it. He finds himself an outcast, even called ‘Rain Man’ by his best friend, but trying to remain professional, finds solace with the science nerd and actually utilizes their skills (which are alien to him) to covertly assist with the case.

There are plenty of great moments, including the pair hosting a house party in an attempt to both lure drugs and become popular, and a high speed pursuit where the pair steal several vehicles from motorists on the highway, and while the penis jokes wore out their welcome, watching their unorthodox methods come together for a satisfying resolution is refreshingly entertaining.

My Rating: ★★★ (B-)


  1. I read a review of the film where Channing Tatum's character says the one thing that might actually get to see this film. "Fuck Glee!"

    I can second that sentiment!

  2. Not seen Channing Tatum in much? He's like Fassbender these days, in bloody everything! :-) Good review

    1. Except the only difference is that Fassbender has acting chops and a mighty fireman!

    2. I have never been interested in his films - GI Joe, The Eagle, The Vow etc. Actually I am seeing Haywire today. So that will be two in the one week. He was good here, which I know has surprised a lot of people. Mike have you seen SHAME? You will know what Steven is talking about.