21 Jump Street
It is common these days for Hollywood movie producers to take, for better or worse, franchises from bygone years and update them for modern audiences. 21 Jump Street is one such film. Based on the television series of the same name, which ran from 1987 to 1991 and starred a youthful Johnny Depp, it focuses on a team of young-looking police officers who pose as teenagers in order to solve crimes. Working much in its favour however, the pre-existence of the franchise is really irrelevant. This makes sense, since target audience for the film (the ‘kids’) would not have been born when the television series aired. Although occasionally nodding to the source material that inspired it, 21 Jump Street does its own thing, and this makes for a very funny and often inspired comedy.
The set-up is simple. Jonah Hill (Superbad, Knocked Up) and Channing Tatum (Step Up, Dear John) – Hill also co-wrote with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World scribe Michael Bacall – star as two recently qualified police officers, Schmidt and Jenko. On account of their young looks, and following a failed drugs bust, they are assigned to a special division on 21 Jump Street. Their police station has decided to “revive a cancelled programme from the 80s” (geddit?). The pair is sent undercover to a high school, posing as students, in order to identify the supplier of a new illegal drug.
The film succeeds for two reasons. The first is Channing Tatum. Having never headlined in any major comedies before, many were unsure of how he would perform. Any doubt is quickly eradicated – Tatum is terrifically funny – arguable out-performing his comedian co-star, Hill. He apparently took a great deal of persuading before he took the role, with a personal phone call from Hill finally convincing him. So integral is his performance to the film’s success, it is a damn good thing he did.
Not to take away from Hill’s performance – he is also on great form – and the lead duo share a fantastic chemistry. From their on-screen relationship comes the heart of the film – and the film does have a surprising amount of heart – setting it apart from your average comedy.
However, the key way of measuring the success of a comedy is the volume of laughs it produces. This is the second reason it succeeds – there are a lot of laughs. Jokes are thrown at the screen at a frenetic rate, with the comedy ranging from the clever (a character complaining about how nobody does anything original anymore and instead recycles things from the past), to the silly (there is a scene where Schmidt and Jenko try to put each other’s tongues back in their mouths – don’t ask – that will have many in stiches), to the downright bizarre (Korean Jesus – again, don’t ask).
The lead duo are offered excellent support from the likes of Rob Riggle (The Hangover, The Other Guys), playing a high school gym teacher, and Ice Cube (Boyz n The Hood, Office Space), who plays the police captain heading up the 21 Jump Street operation.
One might argue that the film lacks in story, and in fairness, it does, and that it is structurally a little bit all over the place, and in fairness, it is. But these shortcomings can be easily forgiven. In many way it’s slightly chaotic vibe adds to its charm, and the result is one of the funniest films of 2012 so far. And, for many, a newfound respect for Channing Tatum.