19 March 2012

21 JUMP STREET- Review

By now, you must know the drill with reviews of good comedies. 21 Jump Street comes from the co-writer of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. It's way funnier than the trailers make it look, and if you're reading beyond this, it's because you're interested in why I enjoyed what amounts to much more than a basic reboot of Stephen J. Cannell's 1980s high school detective series.

Jenko and Schmidt were high school contemporaries in 2005, where Jenko was the popular jock who flunked out and Schmidt was the achingly uncool geek. They both arrive in police academy around the same time, and when they find that they complement each other's academic and athletic weaknesses, their friendship helps them to graduate. Alas, they're both pretty stupid, and their incompetence gets them busted to the recently revived Jump Street division, which sends the fresh-faced cops back to high school, undercover, to bust a drugs racket.

Technically, 21 Jump Street bears some resemblance to Starsky and Hutch, the 2003 Todd Phillips film which turned the iconic cop show into a comedy, without necessarily spoofing the source material. The difference is that I don't think an awful lot of Starsky and Hutch, but the Todd Phillips connection does remind me that the aforementioned Scott Pilgrim co-writer, Michael Bacall, was also responsible for writing the worst film of 2012 so far, the Phillips-produced Project X. Unfortunate relations and unattractive marketing aside, it remains that the film is the best mainstream Hollywood comedy in what feels like a very long time.

Its real triumph is that it succeeds on both levels- it's simultaneously a buddy cop comedy, and a teen comedy that happens to star men in their late 20s/early 30s. In the latter respect, that makes it a bit like most dubiously cast teen movies, but like its affiliation with Cannell's dead serious TV show, it wears this on its sleeve. Bacall's script approaches the characters not as goofball children, but as adults who are somewhat held back by their regrets about their high school experience. The man child character has become so prevalent in mainstream comedy that many seem to have forgotten how to write characters we can laugh with, rather than laugh at.

It should go without saying that Channing Tatum is the real revelation here. After I began to wonder if I only found him funny in The Dilemma because the rest of the film was so excruciatingly awful, his role as Jenko actually affirms him as a formidable comic talent. His more serious work has been coming on in leaps and bounds over the last year or so, but his performance here, and his chemistry with Jonah Hill, is lightyears ahead of anything else he's ever done. Hot off the back of an Oscar nomination for Moneyball, Hill continues to prove his mettle as a comedian as Schmidt, and his hapless, frustrated shtick remains as watchable as ever.

The relationship between the two is what makes the buddy cop element work. While The Other Guys proved overlong and weirdly preachy, this makes better work of parodying action movies. It avoids the earlier film's mistake of focusing on a crime that is too serious for the overall tone of the film, and Nick Franco (brother of James), makes for a hilarious drug-dealing antagonist, who is less Biff Tannen and more Regina George, all airily malicious to fit with a high school culture that's more sharing and caring than either Jenko or Schmidt remember. Jenko blames it all on Glee, but the script makes great comedy from the disparity.

Although it's tempting to say that the better elements of The Other Guys might have been preferable here, (I thought Michael Keaton was a funnier badass captain than Ice Cube, for instance) I very much enjoyed the same vibrant style of direction that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring to the film. Their Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opened with the modest adage, "a film by a lot of people", and the obvious camraderie between those in front of the camera and behind greatly benefits 21 Jump Street too, with a supporting cast that also includes very likeable and funny turns from Brie Larson, Rob Riggle and Ellie Klemper.

21 Jump Street may yet prove to be the most pleasant surprise of the year. It's not that the trailers have been bad, because they've worked perfectly well for the target audience, but what I believe will propel this into the rewatchable ranks of Anchorman and Team America is that it's tonally airtight and never uses its trendy meta-gags as a crutch to lean the whole film on. It has more genuine belly laughs than you would ever expect, while showcasing Channing Tatum's underappreciated comic talents and affectionately ribbing the slightly absurd premise of the original TV series.

21 Jump Street is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen 21 Jump Street, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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