REVIEW: 21 Jump Street

16 12 2012

Recently, I watched “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” the 1982 comedy still considered to be one of the best high school movies ever made, for the first time.  It has obviously become incredibly dated (but is still absolutely hilarious), yet it took me seeing the film to realize that virtually every high school movie for the past 30 years owes it a humongous debt.  Its fingerprints are all over the genre today, so much so that it has become almost inconspicuous.

The “Fast Times” social order still reigns supreme today.  Nice guys finish last, slackers come out on top.  If you’re smart, you’re a nerd.  If you’re a jock, you’re cool.  If you don’t hang around them, you probably aren’t.  And of course, just don’t try at anything because the naturally cool will just have people attracted to them like bugs to a light.  Whether the movies that came out of this mentality actually reflect high school is questionable, but they have all served to reinforce the “Fast Times” ideal.

21 Jump Street,” on the other hand, is a bird of a different feather.  It actually dares to question the preconceived notions of high school movies and imagine an entirely different set of tropes, ones that feel modern and appropriate.  The film’s protagonists, undercover cops Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) graduated high school in 2005 in a very “Fast Times” environment and expect little to have changed when they go on a covert operation to their alma mater in 2012.  Boy, are they wrong.

21 Jump Street

The coolest kid in school is not the most athletic guy – rather, Dave Franco’s Eric is an environmentally conscious overachiever headed to Berkeley.  It’s never mocked or questioned, either; he holds court over the school and it feels perfectly natural to us.  Jenko, however, feels threatened by this new social upheaval that would have destroyed the only thing the football star had going for him.  Add in the fact that Eric’s best friend is a homosexual black guy and Molly, the girl that hangs around him the most, is a theater girl.  Have no doubt about it, this is a movie in outright revolt against the cliches.

So needless to say, “21 Jump Street” has something to say – not just in terms of social commentary, but in terms of humor.  It’s a dynamite film on all accounts, both in terms of quotable one-liners and hilarious situations, two entirely different styles of comedy that don’t often come together in the same movie.  There’s not a dull minute in this movie, either from a butchered rendition of the Miranda rights or from a chase sequence hindered by tights and skinny jeans.

And stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are game for every minute of it.  It’s no surprise that Hill, who has been cracking us up from “Superbad” to “Get Him to the Greek,” packs the laugh; the same could not be said for Tatum though.  His one truly comedic role before “21 Jump Street” was as a dim-wit in the lackluster “The Dilemma,” and it was an absolute disaster.

But as Jenko, a consciously shrewd mockery of his typecast role, Tatum is absolutely brilliant.  He always finds a way to bring an air-headed touch to lighten up every scene while also managing to surprise with some dramatic depth.  His character gets to experience high school from the other side this time around, and he manages to fully convey the weight of his struggles.

They are also surrounded by a phenomenal comic ensemble that adds barrels full of fun to the movie.  I think pretty much every character can get at least one laugh out of you.  There’s Ellie Kemper from “Bridesmaids” and “The Office” as a teacher who can’t help but swoon over Jenko.  There’s Ron Swanson – I mean, Nick Offerman – as a stone-faced police chief who only appears in one scene at the beginning but is totally unforgettable.  Dave Franco’s Eric and Brie Larson’s Molly are both fully formed characters and all the more hysterical because of it.  And best of all, there’s Ice Cube as Jenko and Schmidt’s foul-mouthed supervisor who just crushes every scene he is in.

The subversiveness of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s “21 Jump Street” will ensure it remains an endearing and instantly classic new tome in the volumes of high school movies.  Tatum’s Jenko frustratedly points out that the cause for tolerance and comic books being popular is “Glee,” and the line gets a lot of laughs.  But underneath the humor, screenwriter Michael Bacall (who crafted the story with Jonah Hill) is really onto something.  Maybe “21 Jump Street” is the first high school movie of the “Glee” era, acknowledging that the promises of a more open and accepting world on Ryan Murphy’s show may be coming to fruition.  A4stars

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2 responses

16 12 2012
ninvoid99

This film surprised me. I couldn’t believe how funny it was. The moment where the guys take the drug and start tripping. Never in my life that I’ve experienced something where myself and the audience were in unison by simply laughing our asses off. It was like non-stop laughter. That’s a rare moment for me in my film going experience. One I will always cherish.

17 12 2012
bdgill12

Funniest movie of the year for me. Loved it. And I’ve never really been a huge fan of either Hill or Tatum. So strong.

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