Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ice Cube
Plot: Not sure of what to do with two immature, rookie cops (Hill and Tatum), the police department send them to a failed program, where cops go undercover in high school, known as 21 Jump Street.
21 Jump Street has become something of a cult movie. Comedy is a very subjective genre and it is hard to predict what is going to work and what is going to crumble in on itself. This is why when we do get a slightly good comedy, the target audience make it out as though it is the next biggest thing. I have already said how Superbad didn’t work as well for me, because it was put on a pedestal and the Judd Apatow movies are in dire need of a solid editing session. 21 Jump Street is one of the more recent comedies to blow everyone’s minds and, again, the hype killed the reality of this movie for me. However, as a critic, I could see the charm and fun in this film.
From the outside looking in, 21 Jump Street looks like a film to miss. Two cops who are very different people (one was cool and athletic at high school, the other was socially awkward), who are forced together as an unlikely cop duo. The buddy cop routine is taken to the fresh setting of a high school, where they have to confront both a drug ring and their old social status in school. It is, of course, impossible not to throw in a few house parties and drunk girl gags, when breaching this topic, especially when your leads are babe magnet, Channing Tatum, and gross-out comedy veteran, Jonah Hill. 21 Jump Street does a good job of being exactly what you expect from this material, but at the same time, striving for something more. As well as having the compulsory slapstick and Jonah Hill trademarks, there is heart to this comedy. Sure, it is watered down by the fact that several comedies have brought up the mismatched friends routine recently, but it does make a lot more of the story hit the mark, even if it is just some unexpectedly sweet character development. However, 21 Jump Street’s secret weapon is post-modernism. Several times, the movie references itself as a reboot, even bringing in help from the source material. If the surprise cameo hasn’t been spoiled for you, don’t go hunting for ‘who’, as it really is a jaw-dropping surprise that bursts out of nowhere.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are given the responsibility of making sure 21 Jump Street works. Without the two leads being so likeable, this movie would have become another cop parody to join a long list of forgotten flicks. Jonah Hill doesn’t break away from his stock character too much; this isn’t an insult, he eats up the scenery with the confidence of a man who has this role nailed down. While the script nearly turns him into a full-on douchebag by the end of the second act, Jonah Hill keeps us invested in the character. Tatum is more impressive, even if it is only because he is breaking out of his cage as an actor. It isn’t a fantastic transition; he doesn’t quite command the comedy energy that Mark Wahlberg did, when he swaggered into the comedy genre with ‘The Other Guys’, but Tatum still deserves praise for his performance. He has never really excited me as an actor, starring in a few films that I hate with a passion, but here I was finally won over by his steady charisma and willingness to satirise himself. I am pretty sure his comedy prowess will improve once he has gotten a few more funny films under his belt.
21 Jump Street isn’t as great as it was sold to me. The high school stuff does get old, before the movie is done with that side of the movie. It is pretty predictable, and once the case of mistaken identity narrative device settles down, you can pretty much figure how the next forty minutes of the movie are going to play out. Thankfully, the proceedings are funny enough to make the by-the-numbers plotting forgivable, but you cannot help but wish for more. The only supporting character who means anything to us is Brie Larson, taking the high school beauty queen role and elevating it to a respectable level. Dave Franco is impressive in his own way, but the script doesn’t give him too much material to work with. Other potential side characters are forgotten. What happened to Jake Johnson’s apathetic headmaster, the Physics teacher with a crush on Tatum or the gay, black kid? Each one of them is reduced to limited jokes, which makes their absence for most of the plot annoyingly noticeable. Too much time is spent on Schmidt and Jenko. I get that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are the main attraction here, but it would have been nice to have zoomed out for a moment and taken in some of the other characters here.
However, then the action and cop parody material kicks in and 21 Jump Street earns its stars and stripes. The action finds the right balance of serious and funny; it never forgets it is a comedy, but it doesn’t overstep the mark and annoy anyone trying to settle into the tension of the moment. It is helpful that there are two sets of villains here: the high school element played for jokes, but then there are more serious bad guys, who can actually scare us into thinking that one of the characters could get killed off. Budget is spent wisely on providing some Michael Bay explosions, so the action fans in the cinema can sink their teeth into a pulse-pounded climax. Just when 21 Jump Street seems like it is about to trip under its own feet, it finds the perfect joke or visual to win you back over, making it a very difficult film to condemn.
Final Verdict: I wasn’t as taken with it, as the masses, yet it is hard to deny that 21 Jump Street does its job commendably well. Funny, explosive and the leads shine.