Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Movie Review: 21 Jump Street

Hill and Tatum as Schmidt and Jenko
21 Jump Street (2012)
Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson and Ice Cube

It's pretty safe to assume that the majority of critics and audiences likely expected 21 Jump Street to be, at most, a mild diversion, at worst, an absolute disaster. Because, really, was anyone asking for a modern reboot of the 80s TV series, which featured a pre-fame Johnny Depp?

Lucky for us, Jonah Hill was a bit of a closet fan of the original series (which aired between 1987-1991) and co-wrote a clever, albeit crude, script that stayed true to the simple, straight-forward narrative of the original series, while giving it a modern update -- complete with high-octane thrills and hilariously ludicrous plot twists. What we have on our hands isn't some middling comedy based on a much beloved TV series (think: Starsky and Hutch), but what is arguably the best comedy of 2012 so far.

Two inept young cops on park patrol try to prove their merit despite limited opportunities to apprehend criminals in leafy, peaceful settings. Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) make for the unlikeliest of BFFs because, as we are shown in a brief 2005 prologue, they weren't exactly close chums back in high school. While Schmidt toiled with the awkward outcasts, Jenko was the most popular jock in school. When they bump into each other at police academy years later, they form a tight bond that benefits them both: Schmidt's brains are a perfect balance to Jenko's brawn. However, after a botched attempt to make a proper arrest, the guys are banished to an assignment under the leadership of tough-love boss, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) requiring them to infiltrate a high school undercover in order to bust a drug ring. Schmidt and Jenko soon discover that the old school rules they grew up with no longer apply and realize they have to work that much harder to get in with the right crowds.

Tatum, Hill and Franco
As Schmidt, recent Oscar nominee Hill is playing to all of his strengths -- he has his awkward, foul-mouthed doofus role down to a science.

The role of Jenko is my first introduction to Tatum and it was a good one. Knowing next to nothing about this model-turned-actor going into the film, his knack for comedic timing was nice surprise. Who knew this teen-girl phenomenon was so damn funny?

However, it's the overall chemistry shared between Hill and Tatum that carries the film. They make the 'goofy nerd/hot airhead' pairing work, brushing aside any initial misgivings audiences may have had when they first learned Hill and Tatum were cast in the lead roles. Their hilarious reading of the Miranda rights near the end of the film is a highlight.

Despite its underdeveloped secondary characters (such as Brie Larson as Schmidt's love interest and Dave Franco -- the spitting image of his brother, James -- as a crunchy, granola, earth-loving student with a dark secret), it never detracts from the plot. Because, really, we're all here for Schmidt and Jenko; everything else is secondary.

21 Jump Street is surprisingly clever, with a tongue-in-cheek humour that sends up the original series without ever making fun of it.

Hill and co. managed to take a TV show most teens haven't even heard of and turn it into a monster movie hit. But make no mistake, the films popularity has less to do with its association with the TV show and everything to do with the hilarious team of Hill and Tatum -- a pairing so good you'll find yourself pumped up for the inevitable sequel before the credits roll.