By: Addison Wylie
When looking at the poster for 21 Jump Street, one could simply label the comedy as “just another reboot” or another example of a mainstream snake eating its own unoriginal tail. However, it’s quite the opposite. In fact, 21 Jump Street is one of the funnier comedies I’ve seen. It’s an absolute blast from start to finish.
Many scoffed at the odd pairing of a now skinny Jonah Hill and a hulking lug named Channing Tatum. There was even more hesitation with this being a first time dabbling in the action/comedy genre for the two leads.
From the start, the film plays around with the actors’ differences as we watch Schmidt (played by Hill) and Jenko (played by Tatum) go through high school as two very different teens in different cliques. Movie goers are immediately introduced to a lot of sight gags making fun of dated clothing and hairdos, with Hill sporting frosted tips and a baggy white t-shirt posing as the Real Slim Shady.
Years later, the two meet at the same police academy. With Jenko failing the theory quizzes and Schmidt falling short in physical activities, the two underdogs understand that they could both benefit from a friendship.
This character development happens fast but that’s not particularly a bad thing. For an action/comedy, movie goers want to be interested in the heroes, but it shouldn’t drag because we’re also in the theatre to see a ton of exciting action. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, as well as screenwriter Michael Bacall, understand this and establish a plausible and fun relationship between Hill and Tatum rather quickly in order to move on to the main plot. The friendship also works due to the charisma between Hill and Tatum and their ability to easily work off one another. This uncertain pairing is undoubtably strong.
When the two bicycle cops flounder during an arrest, the Deputy assigns them to a very special undercover case. The mission is run by a tough Captain (played by Ice Cube, who’s having a lot of fun here) and calls for officers to disguise themselves as high school students in order to bust crimes.
Cube gives the cops a mission that calls for them to find a drug supplier. This supplier is selling dope that goes by the acronym H.F.S; the “H” stands for Holy while the other two letters represent expletives. You can solve the puzzle.
Like the initial sight gags poking fun at old trends, the punchlines that follow Schmidt and Jenko entering the school are jokes that play off more culture changes and cliques. A lot of these very funny moments come from Dave Franco. Franco plays the “coolest guy in school”. The kicker is he’s very environmentally friendly and frowns upon any disrespectful behaviour to Mother Earth. This type of mentality was nowhere in sight back when our two cops attended high school.
As Schmidt and Jenko try to track down the bad guys, we get absolutely hilarious scenes where the boys interact with teachers (all played by familiar faces) and other students around them.
The movie is chock full of hilarity but the funniest scene has to be when our heroes try a hit of H.F.S. It’s a sequence of events that is further proof as to why this is the perfect project for Lord and Miller. Their imaginations are always running wild and they displayed this in large volumes in the family friendly flick Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. In 21 Jump Street, even though the two are now working with an R rating and a familiar buddy comedy formula, they still have the ability to insert their imaginative visions to great effect; making the once familiar outing into something brand new. The stages of drug indulgment will have you doubled over in laughter.
Sometimes, the leap from animated films to live action is rocky for first time filmmakers but Lord and Miller show no weaknesses. Action scenes, apart from a rumble at a party, are shot at an appropriate range and we can always make out what’s going on.
What makes these action scenes stand out, as well as other scenes where Cube is briefing the cops on their mission, is not only how they’re directed but also how they’re written. Bacall writes these cliched scenarios with a smart alecky attitude; knowing exactly how to make jabs at the action genre. Even though some lines are self-referential and even poke fun at how people look at re-generated rehashes, these scenes are never smug nor self indulgent.
It’s a very smart and fun script which is the Bacall I appreciate, rather than the happily nihilistic and mean spirited one I endured earlier this month in Project X, a film that will forever be a black eye on his resume. However, 21 Jump Street is so good, it allows us forget about that previous endeavour and look forward to Bacall’s next script.
I recommend 21 Jump Street with eagerness and a huge smile. It’s proof that even a remake of a an old tv series can be pitched in such a way that is both pleasing to newcomers and long time fans. It’s smart while being absurd and creative while following an accustomed structure. But above all, it’s evidence that cleverness still exists in a world full of rushed remakes and churned-out re-creations.