Thursday, March 22, 2012

21 Jump Street - Theatrical Review


Release Date: March 16, 2012

I just barely started warming up to Jonah Hill, I can't stand Channing Tatum and I am not a fan of the television show this is based off. So what was it exactly that got me to go see this? To be honest I'm not really sure.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 2:45 pm March 17, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D ETX
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 49 min
Studio: Columbia

Loves: Ummm.....comedies?
Likes: Jonah Hill
Neutral: Channing Tatum
Hates: Movies based off old television shows
Best: Movie Channing Tatum has ever been a part of

This movie has me extremely confused at the moment. Everyone and everything involved with this thing should have resulted in one of the worst films of the year. A buddy cop movie featuring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum? Huh? Then you factor in how this is based off an old 80s television show that people only mention now when they talk about Johnny Depp's early career and it all sounds like a recipe for disaster. Then the positive reviews started pouring in, word of mouth was spreading about its greatness. It was turning out that this once thought atrocity had somehow become the next big comedy hit. So I took the plunge and decided to check it out. While I wouldn't call it one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen, it certainly put a smile on my face and provided me with some genuine laughs which is more than I can say about a lot of other recent comedies.

Enemies in High School and new found friends in the police academy, book smart Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and street smart Jenko (Channing Tatum) are finding their new careers in law enforcement to be rather bland. After a drug bust at their local park goes awry, their superiors decide that their "skills" as a couple of immature and hopelessly absent minded adults would be better served working with a secret undercover operation down on 21 Jump Street. Their mission is to infiltrate a local High School posing as students and discover the mastermind behind a new synthetic drug that has killed one kid already and threatens the lives of every other student that dares to try it unless they can put an end to it.

Jenko and Schmidt get their new assignment.

What makes this whole thing work is Hill and Tatum, no joke. Those are a collection of words that I never thought I would put into the same sentence together...let me explain. For the longest time I could not stand Jonah Hill, he always played the most annoying character he could find AND DID IT WELL. So because of that I avoided just about everything he was in up until a couple years back when I was forced to watch Get Him to the Greek for other reasons that will go unsaid...cough...Rose Byrne...cough. He started to grow on me a little and then came last years Moneyball which proved to me that he was finally ditching those asshole roles that he started out with and taking on real characters to play. Now with 21 Jump Street, the first film I actually wanted to see BECAUSE he was in it (I skipped The Sitter for obvious reasons) I can safely say that I like the guy and actually think the movie wouldn't work nearly as well as it does without him. But he is only one half of the equation, the other of which was a bigger problem for me going into this.

Channing Tatum...the once real life male stripper (yes, you read that right) is probably one of the blandest actors I have ever seen. In just about everything he has been in he has exhibited this ability to show as little range and emotion as possible. I have never outright hated the guy like I did with Hill but he definitely never inspired any sort of need in me to see anything he was in. Other than the laughably bad (but entertaining) G.I. Joe movie from a couple years back I hadn't seen one thing he had been in that proved anything to the contrary. Even his bit part in Haywire, a film filled to the brim with talent, stood out as completely lacking in any sort of emotion. So he was the one thing I was loathing the most about seeing this film, I couldn't for the life of me picture how he could be anything other than this giant cardboard cutout of a character. Imagine my surprise when he ended up being the best thing in 21 Jump Street.

Schmidt and Jenko having fun during their first bust.

Yes, I just said that, Channing Tatum is the best thing about 21 Jump Street. How does the rest of the movie stack up though? As I said at the outset, this movie is carried by both Hill and Tatum. When you get down to the nuts and bolts of it this is your simple buddy cop movie formula. Two guys who have zero in common must learn to work together in order to win the day. So the chemistry between the two actors in those key roles is essential and by some minor miracle (or a brilliant casting agent) Hill and Tatum work extremely well together. Their characters aren't exactly what I would call unique, one is the class geek and the other is a jock, but what they and the film does with those stereotypes is what made this one of the more enjoyable comedy experiences I have had this year.

I was never a fan of the original show so I have no baggage when it comes to my expectations about its remake status. I could care less about what they did or didn't do when adapting it to the big screen. But I can't deny the brilliance in making both Schmidt and Jenko these two guys who both failed in their own unique ways during their first go at High School and then using that as the set up for when they get a second chance at doing it right this time, something most people their age would love to do. I mean who wouldn't want to retry High School one more time taking along all the knowledge they have gained as a much older and wiser human being? What's funny about their situation and the main joke of the film isn't that they go in there and show everyone up, it's that Schmidt and Jenko THINK they know more than they did when they were teenagers but when reality hits on their first day back to school its clear that the film has other intentions beyond doing just another "grown-up-goes-back-to-school" scenario.

Captain Dickson informs his undercover agents about their assignments.

From their first encounter with the lethal drug they are hunting, the uncomfortable passes made towards Jenko by his hot science teacher, the quasi-illegal romance between Schmidt and a High School girl, to their very first bust on the job where they proceed to violate both the rights and body of the criminal they have handcuffed, it is clear that everyone involved was just having a blast while making this thing. That enthusiasm and energy transfers over to the audience as well and goes a long way to not only provide some great laughs but also to help us get invested with these two guys as they relive their growing pains all over again. There came a point where I couldn't help but feel bad for Jenko as he discovers the other end of the spectrum of High School life as Schmidt takes advantage of his new found fame and starts to leave his friend behind. Not that there is any real emotional depth to anything that happens but I was really shocked by the amount of growth we see from both guys as the movie progressed.

While there are a lot of laughs at the expense of the whole High School set up, "Are you one strappin' or two strappin'?", the film also functions as a surprisingly well done parody of the generic action movie genre. There is not one but TWO car chases that are both wholly unique and funny as hell, the first of which had so many different winks and nods to the audience that I found it hard to keep track of all the different things it was throwing at me and the second one featuring a number of vehicles you normally wouldn't associate with a high speed car chase. The remarkable thing about those sequences and all the action beats in general is that not only are they funny but they are exciting as well, something not as easy to pull off as one might think. Then you have their Captain played by Ice Cube who somehow found a way to play himself yet also poke fun at the stereotypical angry black police Captain WHILE ALSO doing it in a way that never reaches over the top into a full on parody.

Eric introduces Schmidt and Jenko to a new type of drug.

That balance between the absurd action and comedy mixed with some real genuine tender moments between Schmidt and Jenko worked better than I think it should have. Once again, and I am going to start sounding like a broken record here, its two stars are what helped gel everything together. The way their relationship grows and gets challenged throughout the course of events was spot on. Their affinity towards being able to finally go to prom was hilarious and poignant. It isn't anything other than a simple role reversal but how Schmidt went into the assignment looking to do a good job and be a good cop and Jenko was just looking to relive the days where he was the cool kid and how the film flips that on us just when it starts to feel a little too conventional was a masterstroke of genius on the writers part. By making Jenko the lovable oaf who discovers there is more to life (namely science) than picking on people or whether to one strap or two strap and introducing Schmidt into the cool kids circle and their subsequent interactions and reactions was the perfect blend of heartfelt sentimentality and outright ridiculousness.

The rest of the cast was decent as well especially the aforementioned Ice Cube as their police Captain. The kids were fine, Dave Franco as Eric was fun as the would be teenage drug lord and due to a more than passing resemblance to his older brother James Franco I couldn't help but notice how similar their acting styles were. Brie Larson as Schmidt's love interest was fun and perky but was relegated to nothing more than your generic damsel in distress by the end of the film which was a shame. Then you have the cameos which I will not spoil for you as they are much more fun to discover on your own. Due to me not being a huge fan of the original show I missed many of them but upon having them pointed out to me in retrospect I was surprised at just how many they got to show up in this. There was of course one major oversight in my eyes (at least I never saw him, but according to IMDB he was in there) that would have taken all those cameos to the next level but I guess you can't win them all.

It may have taken a few extra years but they finally made it back to prom.

If you are looking for a fun movie to go out and just have a great time with then 21 Jump Street will scratch that itch perfectly. Comprised of a lot of in-jokes, some surprising depth and warmth to its characters, a lot of well staged action set pieces and two actors who bring the whole affair together in a very satisfying way you really can't go wrong with it. Even with my misgivings towards the two lead actors I ended up having a blast with it. If you were on the fence about this one because of the same issues I sited at the outset of this review then rest assured that none of that was a problem here. Both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum turn in some very charismatic and hilarious performances that has me hoping for either a sequel or at the very least another film somewhere down the pipeline that will pair the two of them back up again. I suggest that if you are looking for a good time at the movies then you should...




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