Film Review: 21 Jump Street (4/5)
Making zero concessions to the TV series upon which it’s based, save for the concept, 21 Jump Street mixes typical buddy-boy comedy with extremely funny comedy, gentle jabs at modern culture and surprising intelligence not usually found in frat boy funny-fests of this type, all down to the tactful direction of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs’ directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Couple this with the brilliant pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum - the latter making his comedy debut - and Jump Street is a sharp, tactful film which only occasionally resorts to the gross-out humour found in the films on which Hill cut his teeth.
Hill and Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, stereotypical high school opposites briefly established at the start of the film: Schmidt is the chubby nerd who can’t ask girls to prom, and Jenko is the jock laughing at him being unable to do so. The two both enrol in police academy eight years on and establish a rapport, after conceding that there’s something in one another which they each need.
The two screw up their first bust, forgetting to read their perp their rights, and end up relegated to the titular undercover scheme minded by a typically badass police chief (Ice Cube). Jump Street’s cops are all unnaturally young-looking “Justin Beaver, Miley Cyrus motherf***ers”, perfect for infiltrating high school crime circles and busting cases without raising eyebrows. It sounds stupid, and it is, and the script isn’t afraid to indulge this once in a while. They’re accused by their classmates of looking like 40-year-old men (both are actually in their thirties) and their P.E. teacher wonders why Jenko looks as if he hit puberty at the age of seven - but the screwball antics continue regardless.
As the two work together to try and bring down a high school drug ring there’s a lot of jokes around how much culture has changed, prodding a little fun at the goths, hackers and hipsters of 2012. Schmidt and Jenko’s attempts at fitting in with their new classmates set up a few decent gags. The two have typical buddy film falling-outs and make-ups, and each tap their own potential when they accidentally get their fake identities mixed up - meaning the dim-witted Jenko has to learn about covalent bonds in advanced Chemistry and Schmidt has to talk to his cute co-star (Brie Larson) whilst auditioning for drama class.
There’s a great array of over-the-top set-piece sequences throughout, with varying degrees of success. Dramatic orchestral build-ups to potential explosions in the inevitable freeway chase which then fall flat when nothing blows up are very funny, as are the tie-dye, electrified graphics depicting the four stages of the film’s MacGuffin drug, HFS. A later limo chase on prom night is so stretched out that you might glance at your watch a little wondering when the proceedings will move on. And yes, there are dick jokes, lots of them, many of them plain gross. As a whole, the film is sweet and endearing - not to mention extremely funny every minute.
It’s all a little over-the-top, farcial and more than aware of how silly its jokes, chases and gunfights really are. But at the heart of 21 Jump Street is something far wittier than films in a similar vein would suggest, down to a razor-sharp script and some excellent direction. Hill and Tatum are an excellent partnership, the former chubbily adorable as normal and Tatum surprisingly and entertainingly deadpan in what will doubtless be the first of many comedy roles.