FILM REVIEW: 21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as two under-achieving cops who are sent to Jump Street, a revival of an 80s programme which saw young-looking police officers infiltrate high schools in order to crack down on youth crime. The original series is perhaps more famous for giving a certain Johnny Depp his first break and was high on dramatic action, rather than comedy. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller adopted a very different approach for this particular revival, aiming for comedy and thankfully, it succeeds.


I don't want to give away too many of the jokes here so I'm going to remain deliberately vague as to even know some of the build-up to the punchlines would give it away. As with all adult comedies, crude humour and profanity are utilised throughout, but not to the extent that they overshadow the humour and rarely get in the way of a clever joke. Safe to say though that the quickfire gag rate means that the few jokes that don't work are quickly replaced by a dozen or so that do.


The film's strength lies in its self-deprecating quality and there's a sense of knowing that permeates throughout, starting with the captain's rant about how all anyone ever seems to be doing is reviving old 80s programmes and hoping no one notices. How very meta. In some cases, this could get tired; a film that's clever enough to know it's unoriginal can sometimes go past being suitably amusing to ever so slightly pretentious. 21 Jump Street treads a fine line but it never tips over into the latter, and knowing that's a big cliche is probably one of the high points of the film.

By combining the buddy cop and high school film genres, it gives the film plenty of targets to spoof and it does so with aplomb. Right from the off, with the Eminem intro and the police academy training montage, the film starts building up the cliches; we get mismatched cops, the angry black captain, a car chase, a high school hierarchy and even a slow-motion entrance to some cool music. Rather than just present the cliches however, Lord and Miller build them up only to knock them down again. Never taking itself too seriously, the film revels in the audience's expectations; we see a car chase, we know something is going to explode. Rather than going for the cheap spectacle though, it's built into an extended joke with a very funny punchline. This is the same for the high school cliches, cleverly observing that school has changed from the regimented hierarchy it used to be to a place where the popular kids are environmentally conscious, gay and drug dealers. Jenko's theory as to why this is the case is perhaps my favourite joke of the entire film. And, as with all good high school films, it ends at the prom. Though it's probably not any prom you'd like to attend.


Performance wise, the central duo are perfect in their respective roles. I'm not the biggest fan of Jonah Hill because in every film I've seen him in, he plays... well, Jonah Hill. His character Schmidt is your typical nerd in high school, unable to ask a girl to the prom or run 100 yards particularly quickly. His character arc is actually quite sweet given that he's able to relive his high school years only this time on the popular side of the crowd. This helps to overlook the slightly weird romantic subplot with Molly (Brie Larson), a high school senior. The real revelation in this film though has to be Channing Tatum in his first real comic role. Previously seen glowering in either romantic dramas or explodey-actioners, Tatum has rarely been given a chance to present anything other than an overhanging forehead macho character. Jenko could have just been another dumb jock, seen in countless other films, but instead, Tatum gives the role depth, combining the dumb jock with the kid who just wanted to be popular in high school. He also demonstrates great comic timing and is trusted with a lot of the best lines in the film. Plus, he mimes a mean lightsaber battle.


Elsewhere, Ice Cube puts in a great performance, nearly stealing the show with his 'angry black captain' speech. Dave Franco, younger brother of James, as main drug dealer Eric sends up the popular kid stereotype brilliantly and I don't think it will be long before we see much more of him. Then of course, there's the cameos. We knew from the start that Johnny Depp had agreed to cameo and, though a long time coming, it's well worth the wait. When he does appear, alongside fellow Jump Street alumnus Peter Deluise, it's one of the most hilariously meta gags in the whole film, ushering in the new Jump Street era with some knowing references.


As with all comedies, Jump Street falls apart slightly when it comes to the plot. Although the central plot of infiltrating the high school drugs ring works and the ultimate reveal of the dealer is suitably surprising, the film does have a couple of pacing issues. Because of the melding of action and comedy, it was always going to be a struggle to make sure the story held up all the way through the film. The plot inevitably gets in the way of the fast-paced gag rate and everything slows down as a result. Thankfully, the entrance to the prom reinvigorates it all and instead of a limp third act that could have reduced the film to mediocre, we get a suitably hilarious finish to a great comedy.


If you're in need of a hearty giggle or craving a spoof of several genres all at once, 21 Jump Street makes for a very funny evening and, if you've already seen it and want more, be comforted to know that the inevitable cash-in sequel is most definitely on the way.


****


- Becky

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