March 31, 2012

Film review: 21 JUMP STREET

Poster design by Bemis Belkind
I perhaps fall into a strange demographic with regards to 21 Jump Street: I wasn't old enough to watch the show when it first came out but I am not so old I don't remember high school - all of 12 years ago.

The film adaptation 21 Jump Street is a film with a very knowing, self-aware script. There are more than a few little jabs at the entire concept behind re-invigorating the "franchise" with a remake of the TV show (more of an "in-universe" cinematic sequel) and the studio culture that encourages it. It is also a film very aware of the cliches of the cop-action genre and, like Hot Fuzz before it, plays up to them and plays them up.

From a script by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall (the actor/writer on something of a hot streak lately) this incarnation finds Jonah Hill's Schmidt and Channing Tatum's Jenko as guys on opposite ends of the high-school spectrum. However, years after high-school, when they find themselves both signing up for the same police academy intake they become fast friends: Schmdit, the chubby brain helping Jenko with his tests and Jenko, the handsome but dim jock type, training Schmidt up for the physical side of things.

Due to, frankly, their own damn ineptness at anything approaching actual police work they find themselves swiftly bounced to the newly re-opened undercover operation at the eponymous address. There's a new drug doing the rounds at one of the local high-schools and Schmdit & Jenko must assume new identities and infiltrate the dealers and find the source.

But hey, high-school culture has moved on significantly since these two were last wandering the hallways. And due to Jenko's well-meaning stupidity theses two find themselves in the wrong identities: Jenko is hanging with the science geeks, while Schmidt finds himself, for the first time in his life, with the cool kids. Hilarity, explosions and tests on the bonds of friendship ensue.

Jonah Hill is in his known and recognised Jonah Hill mode, his comedy schtick now perhaps approaching Seth Rogen levels of saturation and awareness. More of a surprise is Channing Tatum, who has bounced around a number of attempts to really break out; from self important dancing movies to teary romantic drama, smaller character focussed roles and big silly fun action flicks. He brings a real sweetness to the dumb-jock Jenko, and an insecurity that really fuels his need to fit in and be 'cool'.

The film is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, making 21 Jump Street another recent instance of animation directors making the transition to live action. These are the two behind one the most gloriously demented animated films of recent memory, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and they bring that sense of comedic timing and a pretty good, if not outstanding, eye for action. In fact, a fair amount (and more than really necessary) of the action scenes are filled with strange, slightly unfinished looking CG effects. I don't know if the pair just felt more comfortable working in the computer when it came to these moments but they weren't really necessary; just about every instance could have easily been accomplished in camera.
21 Jump Street certainly doesn't re-invent the wheel when it comes to bromances, buddy comedies or cop-action films but then, it doesn't ever set out to. It is a film blessed with a script that knows exactly what it is, and with a couple of wisecracks and jokes that help elevate it above what it otherwise would have been.  


  1. Hill and Tatum are great together here and add a lot to this film’s comedy but it’s just the way it is all written that makes it even richer. It’s making fun of those high school comedy conventions but at the same time, is inventing it’s own as it goes on. Great review Andy.

    1. Cheers! Yeah, it's actually a fairly good melding of the buddy-cop-action genre conventions and the high-school/coming-of-age conventions. They dovetail so well together.