21 Jump Street - Movie review
From the casting alone you can tell 21 Jump Street is not a straight-up Hollywood television-to-film adaptation.
Jonah Hill is worlds apart from Johnny Depp and as you might expect, the film owes more to Apatow style buddy comedies and the classic tropes of teen films than it does to the original source material.
The film starts at a lightening pace, establishing the central relationship and back story in a matter of minutes. Through a cringe-worthy scene of prom-date rejection, followed by a take on the training montage, we discover that Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), attended the same high school, where they had a predictable nerd vs jock dynamic. Thrown together in Cop College, their mutual need and divergent skill sets (Tatum is fit, Hill is smart, a point played for gags in almost every scene), results in a close friendship, which sees them both through their studies. After graduation they're put on a low responsibility round, patrolling a park on bikes.
When the pair, craving the kind of macho action that saw them sign to the force in the first place, attempt to bust a group of biker drug dealers they see smoking joints in the park, their weaknesses undo them. Schmidt is creamed by the bikers he attempts to crack down on, while Jenko fails to read the crim he catches his Miranda Rights, and as a result, he walks.
In between is a great deal of swearing and shouting, much of which is at least moderately amusing.
Having horribly botched their first attempt at an arrest, Deputy Chief Hardy(Nick Offerman) reassigns the pair to a "revived under cover programme from the eighties". Then comes one of the film's first subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face-but-you're-laughing-any-way smacks of satire, as Hardy opines that people these days lack originality, and would prefer to recycle old bullshit instead.
It is self aware lines like this that sort of make the film but, in true buddy comedy tradition, the delivery is so overt it feels almost patronising. It may subvert norms, but 21 Jump Street isn't so much winking at its audience as it is apoplectically twitching its face at us.
Upon stepping into 21 Jump Street - an abandoned Korean Church - the pair are confronted with Captain Dickson (Ice Cube at a volume so loud, it's a wonder he didn't have to have polyps removed from his throat after filming). Then we learn that because Schmidt and Jenko are some "baby-faced… Justin Beaver, Milly Cyrus-looking mother fuckers", they will be sent on under cover ops to bust up crime rings in high schools.
In a looming piece of foreshadowing they are warned that they are not to give alcohol to minors, have sex with students or teachers, or get themselves expelled, then given new identities as brothers, moved back in with Schmidt's parents and sent back to their old high school to track down the source of a new synthetic drug.
Crippling incompetence thwarts Schmidt and Jenko at every turn, and within moments of arriving back at school, the pair realise they've mixed up their identities, and are now enrolled in the wrong sets of classes. Geeky Schmidt is now studying drama and phys ed, while Jenko has landed himself in advanced science courses.
They also discover - in probably the most inspired aspect of the film's premise - that high school has changed. Gone are the ideas of sportiness, stupidity and apathy as the be-all and end-all of teenage popularity. Instead, the cool kids with the access to drugs are queer-friendly, environmentally switched on types who are anti authoritarian and prefer the student newspaper to sports. In that sense, the high school environment feels closer to Clueless than it does to the original Jump Street, and its John Hughes contemporaries.
In this brave new world where soulful, drug-dealing hipster Eric Molson (Dave Franco) is the king of the kids, Schmidt quickly discovers he's on a path to popularity, while Jenko is left with no friends but the geeks in his advanced maths and science classes.
The way the film unfolds from there is pretty predictable, with the power going to Schmidt's head, while Jenko slowly learns to reassess his value system.
This is punctuated by scenes of painfully poor police work on both their parts, a few wild parties, a slowly flourishing romance, and a great deal of doing drugs, swearing and sympathetic-wince-inducing physical comedy.
The movie builds - as all teen flicks should - to a show down at prom night with a delightful twist reveal.
To call 21 Jump Street crude would be an understatement. The violence, while comedic, is brutal (at the screening I attended there were almost as many 'ouches' as laughs), Schmidt and Jenko's series of unfortunate mistakes is almost as painful to watch as their repeated collisions and EVERYONE IS ALWAYS SHOUTING.
But despite these things, there's a little hint of devience about the film, a sense of subversion and defiance of the typical Hollywood trends that elevates it above the puerile to something that, while still sophomoric, has a bit of bite. It is also, frequently, laugh out loud funny.
While the amoral celebration of incompetence and irresponsibility in the film is cringe worthy, and the idea that anyone would even want a second chance at high school popularity is utterly baffling, if you can cope with watching Tatum and Hill violently jabbing their fingers into each others mouths (actually), 21 Jump Street is worth it for the giggles. The main cast are all at ease with the material, and the film is so well paced, you barely have time to think about what you're watching.
This is a movie that no one could go into with high expectations, and in that sense, it has exceeded them. That, Hill and Chatum explained when I interviewed them, was the whole point. You'd expect at 21 Jump Street remake to suck, and this film, for all its obviousness in delivery, doesn't.
21 Jump Street opens nationally on the 15th of March