Film Review: 21 Jump Street

3.5

To say that Jonah Hill is experiencing a surge in his career would be an understatement. His first Oscar nomination for Moneyball has taken him from loveable “foulmouthed, fat-kid” to more of a well-rounded, respected actor. Being that he is one of the best young comedic actors in Hollywood, it is only natural that Hill would find his first post-nom performance to be in the comedy-reboot 21 Jump Street, a film that he co-wrote. We have seen his contemporaries Seth Rogen and Jason Segel attempt their own reboot-passion projects (The Green Hornet and The Muppets respectively) with varying success, and now it’s Jonah’s turn.  21 Jump Street has the unenviable task of either setting the table for comedy films of 2012 or becoming another failed rehash of property from decades past.

If you have seen any of the trailers for this film, then the premise is rather straight-forward. Two young guys, Schmidt and Jenko (played by Hill and Tatum), who were at opposite ends of the social spectrum in high school become inadequate cops and best friends a decade later and are forced into an undercover division to track down drug use in a local high school. The movie is loosely based on the 80s television show of the same name (the very same show that introduced Johnny Depp to the masses) but is really more of a cross between the 1999 Drew Barrymore-starred flick Never Been Kissed and the recent Farrell/Wahlberg buddy-cop film The Other Guys.

The heart of a “buddy cop” film is the chemistry between the co-leads. If their bond isn’t strong, then the audience has trouble buying into the film. Though I have always enjoyed the work of Jonah Hill (even in oddball turns such as in Strange Wilderness), I have never held a fondness toward Channing Tatum. Tatum has always seemed to be a hollow, under-actor who skates by on his model-looks.  21 Jump Street has improved his stance with me.  Chalk it up to strong dialog or working with a veteran comic actor in Hill but Tatum actually resembles an ACTOR in this film. There isn’t any underacting or mumble-fumbling through dialog. The audience actually sees an actor that appears to be enjoying what he is doing and in-turn produces a fun character. (Now let’s see what he can do under the direction of Steven Soderbergh later this year in Magic Mike.)

Outside of the leads, the film contains your everyday menagerie of characters: the love interest played by Brie Larson, the cool kid played by Dave Franco, the angry captain of the undercover division played by Ice Cube, and Rob Riggle as Rob Riggle. All of these characters are one-note or barely go beyond it. Larson does a solid job at building her acting resume and Riggle provides his expected outlandish moments. Ice Cube was the real disappointment as I was hoping for a little more out of his character, but alas, I think the draw of his role is seeing a former NWA member playing a police captain. Ellie Kemper of Bridesmaids fame was the only true stand-out to me. Her horny school-girl-like teacher character, “Ms. Griggs,” provides some brief, but hilarious moments opposite Channing Tatum.

The writing of a comedy is as important to its success as its leads and 21 Jump Street’s far exceeded my expectations. What I assumed would be a film riddled with sex jokes and toilet humor was instead a self-aware script filled with funny dialogue exchanges and well-executed situations. (The first day of school for Schmidt and Jenko’s undercover mission being one of the best moments). The film also understands that it is “based” on an older property and, at points, nearly breaks the fourth wall in exposing this fact. These moments were welcomed by me and helped to give the film its own identity.

Being that it is a buddy-cop film, there are also some moments of cheesy emotion. The emotion doesn’t show up full-force until the third act of the film but it does come on a tad heavier than I would have liked. It’s not enough to ruin the film by any means but it does feel a little tacked-on.

As far as cinematography and imagery, I am never one to grade too harsh on a comedy. 21 Jump Street has a very formulaic comedy feel to it. The main focus in a comedy is the dialogue and performances and that is the same with this film. The one stylistic choice the film makes is by inserting graphic slates for the behavioral stages caused by the drug “H.F.S.” This is introduced at the beginning of the film during a YouTube video of a student chronicling his drug high. They return to this trope multiple times in the film when the main characters get high. It is funny the first time, but loses its effectiveness in the latter stages of the film.

Jonah Hill continues his stellar work, Channing Tatum has broadened his raw repertoire, and the rookie live-action directing effort by Phil Lord and Chris Miller can be commended.  21 Jump Street isn’t a particularly innovative comedy nor can it be considered one of the greatest “buddy-cop” films ever. Instead, it is a fun film with inspired performances by its leads that sets off the 2012 film season with a bang. I suggest going in with no expectations as that will allow you to reap the greatest reward.

One Comment

  1. Journel says:

    Well said! I enjoyed the movie. For a comedy, I went in and actually laughed.

    movie, mission accomplished.

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