SXSW ’12 – 21 Jump Street Review


Vulgar action comedy finds winning humor in its stars chemistry

I cackled more than once during 21 Jump Street. I’m quite embarrassed – the sound I make when cackling is quite ugly and off-putting. I couldn’t help it, though. 21 Jump Street is a very, very funny film.

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the creators of the cult MTV animated series Clone High and the directors of the surprisingly clever Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs21 Jump Street is an in-continuity sequel to the late ‘80s TV series of the same name. Jonah Hill, who worked on the script with writer Michael Bacall, co-stars alongside Channing Tatum as two clueless police officers that land an undercover gig thanks to their ineptitude. Their mission is to infiltrate a high school posing as students – uncovering the source behind a new drug that has already taken the life of a teenager.

Tatum and Hill have outstanding chemistry together — playing off each other’s comedic strengths. And while Hill has already shown himself to be a remarkably funny actor, it is Tatum as a dim-witted jock-turned-cop who is the breakout star of the film. While Tatum has already established himself as a leading man with his romances and action films, nobody could have guessed the comedic chops the young star had on him.

Tatum plays both against and with audience’s expectations to create a character that is at once everything and nothing they expected him to be. Violent, occasionally prone to stupidity but containing extreme loyalty and tenderness, Tatum plays his role like an overeager puppy dog. Most surprising is the fact that he is not even given a romantic side-plot – well, not exactly. The movie could very easily be seen as a romance between Tatum and Hill – two friends with a bond closer than most lovers’.

Hill and Tatum’s cop characters both went to the same high school together – one as bully and the other as bullied. When they meet again in police academy, though, a friendship is forged and the two become inseparable. Audiences never doubt the tenacity of the character’s friendship and it is this great warmth fueling the friendship that gives the film its crackling energy and helps sell the movie’s jokes – even as the humor descend further and further into some truly bizarre territory.

21 Jump Street features an outstanding supporting cast including Ice Cube as a stereotypical angry black police captain who freely acknowledges his clichéd existence, Rob Riggle as a lousy teacher and Dave Franco as a tree-hugging, granola-crunching drug dealer whose friendship with Hill’s character serves as the crime fighting pair’s method of stopping the school’s drug ring.

As the requisite love interest, Brie Larson is a welcome surprise. Oozing charm, Larson is handle her own when paired with Hill and the very funny Franco, younger brother to James.

21 Jump Street has a very kinetic sense of humor – no surprise considering the directors’ background in animation. Jokes leap off the screen at a brisk pace and the humor is organically woven into the film’s few action set pieces. Fans of the original television series may be put off by the film’s very R-rated sensibilities. The team behind 21 Jump Street have realized that the average audience member has changed since the original show was on the air and messages of the week and cheese-ball camp won’t be enough to entice the Youtube generation to see a movie. To keep pace, Bacall’s script is heartedly vulgar in a way that relishes pushing the boundaries of taste. The movie does not shy away from the extreme and – at times – even dares audiences to accept its filth. That said, the movie has a strong heart – born from the chemistry of its leads – that manages to make the film lovable even as its wallowing in nasty.

Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Notable Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle and Ice Cube
Writer(s): Michael Bacall

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