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In Cinemas: 21 Jump Street

Posted on the 28 March 2012 by Desertofreel @Kob_Monney

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street

Hey Korean Jesus.

Based on a tv show that never made its way to British shores, 21 Jump Street has a bit of an unknown factor about it. However, what uniqueness or novelty 21 Jump Street had in its premise of cops working undercover in high schools disappears under a wave of familiar 80s action tropes and a predictable script. If you’re looking for a good two hours at the cinema then 21 Jump Street fits the bill, but beyond the jokes there’s little here that’s fresh despite the film’s attempts at subverting expectations. Odd.

Tatum’s Jenko and Hill’s Schmidt first meet in high school where Jenko is a dim but popular jock who teases Eminem-but-fatter-looking Schmidt. When they reunite at the police academy they put their differences aside and become best friends. Believing their life as cops will be full of car chases and shoot-outs, they’re stationed to park duty and given bicycles instead of patrol cars. When a drug-related bust goes wrong they get their asses sent to 21 Jump Street, a program that recruits officers to solve crimes in schools. Their first case is to bust a drug ring that’s supplying synthetic drugs to teenagers.

The biggest problem with 21 Jump Street is its story. The performances, humor and action within are quite good but the script doesn’t deviate from the standard comedy textbook. 21 Jump Street is a case of cleaving to the tried-and-tested formula of comedy scripts, with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) embroidering the situations with a wacky sense of humor and energy but Michael Bacall’s script has the characters go through terribly predictable arcs.

Even though it reverses the roles of Tatum and Hill once they go undercover, the direction of the story never surprises (I suppose there’s some sort of comfort in that) and characters react to the big emotional beats in a manner that’s similar to every other comedy for the last fifteen years. You’re absolutely sure of the outcome and the film never once tries to dispel that surety.

It has moments that work really well, especially when Jenko/Schmidt try to gain some cred with their retro humor. Even though it doesn’t seem as if they’ve been out of high school for long (they probably have, I just have no idea how the American school system works). Schmidt/Jenko’s sense of humor and worth in the social strata of high school are totally upended on the first day. They’re out of their elements and part of the film’s charm is seeing how they adapt and struggle to their new lives. Both characters get to see the other side of school life that they weren’t privy to before and, as you do in school, learn a few things they didn’t know before.

Tatum shows more of the comedic chops he displayed in The Dilemma; giving Jenko a dumb jock presence that’s affable (his meltdown at a music recital is sort of brilliant). Hill gets saddled with a role that inflates his character’s ego and as a result turns him into a bit of dick, with screenwriter Bacall looking to drive a wedge between Jenko and Schmidt that feels very contrived and unnecessary. The rest of the cast are good, special mentions should go to gym teacher Rob Riggle who knocks it out the park with his acerbic performance and Ice Cube as the belligerent Captain Dickson.

So while the gag rate is comfortably high (with more jokes hitting than missing), 21 Jump Street could have done with a better, less transparent story. It’s the off-kilter humor that saves the day, giving the film a tone that’s not bound to realistic expectations. (Who on earth can shake of a stab wound? Or not even refer to it in the rest of the film?) Surprises are few and far between but 21 Jump Street is just about crazy enough and enderaring to ensure that its jokes hit their intended mark.

6/10


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