Friday, March 16, 2012
Movie review: 21 Jump Street
It’s the most fun we've had at the movies so far this year.
On paper, 21 Jump Street gives you plenty of reasons to hate it: It’s based on an ‘80s property (resurrected because everything in the ‘80s was great and therefore a new version will sell well), it stars two leads who regularly pigeonhole themselves, and it’s written by Michael Bacall, who only two weeks ago unleashed the cinematic atrocity known as Project X.
Yet over and over 21 Jump Street endears the audience to it. With a playful, energetic tone, the movie never overstays its welcome. It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies so far this year.
A slimmer Jonah Hill stars as Schmidt, a nerd. Channing Tatum plays Jenko, the jock. They were bullied and bully in high school. But seven years later, they meet at the police academy and find they perfectly complement each other: Schmidt has the smarts, Jenko has the stamina. Together, they both ace their final exams, excited that police work may bring the excitement they’ve missed in their lives.
Alas, they end up as bicycle cops patrolling the local park and botch what would have been a huge drug bust by forgetting to read the dealer his Miranda rights. So off to Jump Street they go, where Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube, stepping back from the kids’ movies and letting the F-bombs fly) assigns them to Sagan High, where a new synthetic drug has resulted in a string of deaths. “White kids are dying, so people care,” the principal deadpans.
Jenko assumes the fast track to popularity is the same as it was when he ascended the social ladder: Coast through your classes, and make fun of anyone you don’t like. But the keys to success at this school include social activism, extracurricular activities, and an open mind. This means our duo has to switch to Plan B: Schmidt gets in with the popular kids, and Jenko pumps the nerds for information.
That early role reversal means Hill and Tatum get to tweak their images, which they do eagerly. Hill clearly has a blast because his character (and most likely himself) never got to hang with the cool kids. Tatum also relishes the rare chance to keep his shirt on.
Part of the joy of the movie lies in its seriousness, or rather the winking at how serious every character other than our heroes seems to be. But the movie is never smug or exclusionary — this high school is for everyone.
The movie also places ridiculous gags at opportune moments. When Schmidt and Jenko test out the new drug themselves, animated title cards depict its effects. And one car chase stops and starts because of one thing movies seem to forget: the traffic jam. Later, both a semi and oil tanker catch fire, as everyone waits for an explosion that never comes. Then, when one driver bumps a truck full of chickens, we get the kaboom we’d been waiting for.
While the film progresses more or less in the way you think — oh, yes, there will be a big showdown at prom — 21 Jump Street crosses the finish line with a magazine full of jokes and a blast of visual style.
For showtimes for 21 Jump Street, click here.