23 March 2012
21 Jump Street
2012, 113mins, 15
Director (s): Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writer (s): Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill
Cast includes: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Ice Cube
UK Release Date: 16th March 2012
Revamping TV programs of yore hasn’t proven particularly successful in the last few years, modern big screen adaptations of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and even 2010’s playful reimagining of “The A-Team” having failed to conjure much critical love. These days the 80s procedural “21 Jump Street” is remembered more for being an early pit stop in Johnny Depp’s career, although the show was admittedly popular during its four year run. However Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall (recently behind “Project X”) clearly felt the cops in high-school concept had mileage in the current cinematic climate, retuning the formula to allow for the former and everyone’s’ favourite set of abdominal muscles (sorry Mr. Lautner) Channing Tatum to lark around in a teenage wasteland. On paper it sounds dodgy, yet in practise “21 Jump Street” provides a consistently good time. The leads share a fun chemistry, the jokes are generally amusing and with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller at the helm (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) there’s just enough weirdness to make the venture distinctive.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were polar opposites at high school, a dateless loser and arrogant jock respectively. However upon joining the police academy they form a firm friendship, their differences providing appeal and solidity to the other. After a drug bust goes hideously wrong, the incompetent officers are reassigned to a project on 21 Jump Street, overseen by the frightening Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, clearly having a blast). Schmidt and Jenko are to be sent back to school on an undercover mission, attempting to nab the supplier of a new synthetic drug wreaking havoc within the institution. On return they find the social hierarchy of things drastically altered, Schmidt falling in with the cool kids, namely spunky drama student Molly (Brie Larson), whilst Jenko finds solace in the company of the nerdy types he used to abuse. As Schmidt becomes more enamoured with his new found stature, his relationship with Jenko begins to falter, risking their entire investigation as a consequence.
“21 Jump Street” starts slowly, finding its footing once the protagonists reach the schoolyard setting. Hill and Bacall’s screenplay offers some interesting perspectives on modern youth culture, insights that contrast pretty sharply from the latter’s work on “Project X”. Is it now cool to care about your future? Is drama now hipper than organised sports? Is recognising environmental plight considered rad? “21 Jump Street” enjoys batting about ideas such as these, unearthing little nuggets of hilarious truth along the way. Of course there’s goofier, dirtier and broader material on show too, but the movie’s real charm is in its distorting of stereotypes and preconceived notions. There are a lot of laughs to be had, some more markedly intelligent than others, but generally the film boasts an astute and slightly offbeat sense of humour.
Hill and Tatum are an unlikely team in theory, but in execution they combine effectively. Tatum is a particularly pleasant surprise, the usually one dimensional beefcake supplying a jolt of sharp comic energy, relishing his part as the fool. The dramatic beats between them are predictable (their trajectory as pals hitting the usual rough patches) but both actors carry it off with vigour and charisma. The supporting cast is loaded with talented individuals (Ellie Kemper, Dave Franco and Chris Parnell to name a few) but none are really given enough time to leave a concrete stamp upon the picture, the majority of the heavy lifting left to Hill, Tatum and a strikingly fierce Ice Cube.
Lord and Miller do a grand job of meshing action with comedy, gifting audiences a hysterically explosion deficient car chase and a manic bullet riddled finale to help bump up the product’s sense of spectacle. Also much like they did with their previous directorial endeavour, the filmmakers lace “21 Jump Street” with some truly bizarre touches, including a very creatively delivered explanation of how the drug in question affects those who ingest it. It’s these little treats that push “21 Jump Street” into the realm of pleasing oddness, helping to alleviate some of the familiarity forced on proceedings by the standard narrative. However even some of the less innovative moments are handled with care and dignity, two particular scenes involving prom invites ringing with sincerity. Lord and Miller may wrap the picture in an extravagantly geeky fashion, but the contents are skilfully put together and provide at least intermittent instances of emotional resonance.
The supplier’s identity (it’s what the investigative portion of the story teases) is lame, but the climax at least features some credible action and a very memorable cameo. “21 Jump Street” is a lightweight and gratifying way to spend 109 minutes, a very silly picture with some welcome spikes in craziness to help it strike a unique chord. There are better flicks currently in release, but with blockbuster season looming large, this could be the last chance to score some high quality, low-key popcorn fodder before the summer slog begins.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012