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I am Salty The Beast. I am what you might call a Renaissance man, meaning I find interest in most every medium. I love watching movies, listening to music, writing music, playing video games, making videos, etc.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: 21 Jump Street

“21 Jump Street” is the last movie I was expecting to enjoy this weekend (and it was the ONLY movie widely released this weekend), and yet I was pleasantly surprised by just how funny it turned out to be, because it’s actually pretty hilarious. Its humor is wide-ranging and all-encompassing, with jokes alternating between broad to subtle, tongue-in-cheek to foot-in-mouth, smart to dumb (the good kind of dumb, to be sure). And what’s more is that amongst the cheerfully R-rated vulgarity, the film is also sweet and charming in its own way. You see, this is exactly why I am so vocal in my negative opinions toward movie trailers. The promotional material for “21 Jump Street” did not adequately prepare me for these results.

In a perfect world, it would go without saying that anything bearing the title “21 Jump Street” is based on a television show that aired on Fox between 1987 and 1991, but the film reminded me through one of the main characters referencing the song “Rico Suave” by Gerardo to a confused eighteen-year-old that the modern teenager has a limited grasp of the pop cultural timeline. So I feel required to provide somewhat of an exposition for a few of the more under-informed readers. The TV show, also called “21 Jump Street,” starred an up-and-coming Johnny Depp, who would become one of the biggest movie stars of his generation, and Peter Deluise, the son of actor/comedian Dom Deluise. The show was a powerful force in transforming Depp into a teen idol and sparking the actor’s budding film career. And while I don’t think there were too many fan groups bellowing for this property to be adapted for the big screen, we got one anyways, and it gets the job done.

In the film’s short prologue sequence set in the year 2005, it introduces its main characters Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum). Jenko is the archetypal letterman jacket-clad high school football stud who is a few electrons short of a covalent bond (in lament’s terms, he’s not very bright), while Schmidt is a wannabe cool kid with short bleached blonde hair and a mouth so plastered with braces that it resembles one of those old steel bear traps. These two kids represent opposite ends of the social spectrum, but both somehow wind up enrolling in the same police academy seven years later for training. Jenko can never earn a passing grade on the written exams and Schmidt cannot endure the physical fitness courses, so it’s only natural that the two become friends and coach each other in their respective problem areas. Or at least help them enough to where they can just barely meet graduation requirements.

Their first real victory as an official cop duo is subverted due to the simple mistake of failing to read off the Miranda rights to the perps, so Schmidt and Jenko are relocated to 21 Jump Street, the headquarters of a special branch of the police squad. Headed by the stern, foul-mouthed Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), this agency specializes in undercover assignments which involve the cops disguising themselves as high school students to investigate various criminal activities, namely the circulation of a hazardous new synthetic drug at the local school campus. Dickson wants the drug’s stash unearthed, the outbreak contained, and the supplier(s) behind bars.

So the two enroll themselves back in school, adopt alternate identities as brothers Brad and Doug McQuaid, receive their own class schedules and have their own comprehensive backgrounds to study up on, three of these four actions they naturally screw up. Clueless Jenko is dumped like a fish out of water into chemistry class, while short and squat Schmidt is signed up as a dramatic theater actor and an accomplished track star. Poor Jonah Hill never seems to get a break; even after his impressive weight loss recently, he is cast in a role where he occasionally gets mocked for his not-quite-slim figure. These students must have not seen “The Sitter.” And for that, I envy them.

Was it ever mentioned in this review that the original “21 Jump Street” television show was intended to be a crime drama? Imagine that. In fact, my mother was briefing me about how hokey and preposterous the show is when looking back on it today; that it holds up so poorly, it is a wonder that audiences could have taken it as seriously as they did. Instead, the film adaptation “21 Jump Street” is a loose, deliberately comedic reimagining of the show’s basic premise, like the film versions of “Starsky and Hutch” and “Land Of The Lost” (though certainly much more consistent than either of those two). It is ludicrous enough to believe that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are biologically related, but it’s downright impossible to mistake Tatum, a perfectly chisled, fully grown man with the muscle tone of a professional model, for a student between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. The film makes no bones about poking fun at some of the more goofy improbabilities, as when the science teacher (played by Ellie Kemper of “The Office”) has the hots for Jenko and the creepy gym teacher (Rob Riggle) makes comments on the boy’s development.

Jenko gives a list of guidelines for Schmidt to take into account for his second go-around through high school, beginning with 1) don’t try at anything, and 2) make fun of the people that DO try. Of course, abiding by his own life lessons lands Jenko in big trouble less than one minute into his first day. It becomes clear that school’s standards for what is acceptable has changed with time; insensitivity is frowned upon and spreading messages of environmental awareness is encouraged. Speaking frankly as a reasonably recent high school graduate, the idea of a progressive high school (as idyllic as it sounds) rings a long note of complete and utter impossibility in my mind, even as society as a whole becomes a more tolerant and unified body. But hey, the humanitarian clubs and organizations might have just slipped under my radar in the monthly newsletters.

But one thing that remains constant throughout any school is the hierarchal structure of the food chain. The cool kids only mingle with cool kids, the uncool kids only mingle with other uncool kids, hipsters brag about how they mingled with cool kids after soccer practice before they were cool, and so on. At some point, the idea must roll around in the mind of every unpopular kid that if they were to somehow ascend to the lofty status of “big man on campus,” they would still hold onto their ethics and proclaim like the Lorax that they speak for the geeks. If you ask me, power and influence is a dangerous game that can warp the mind of any individual who possesses it, and once Schmidt gets a sweet taste of acceptance and recognition from his peers by starting high school with a clean slate, he becomes the one who speaks condescendingly about Jenko, who has found his niche with a small group of secluded science whizzes.

You know what? I am actually quite glad that the filmmakers chose to repurpose the film as a comedy rather than keep it solemn or gritty in tone. Michael Bacall (who incidentally wrote “Project X”) has composed a script that is accessible to where it can point out the logical fallacies in an argument about narcs, and promptly snicker with glee while repeating the word “fallacy” to itself. Jonah Hill has made a career out of playing characters perpetually stuck in a purgatory between adulthood and juvenile adolescent behavior, but Channing Tatum can surprisingly do comedy very, very well. I truly hope to see him break from his tired disposition as the brooding romantic lead more often in future projects. James Franco’s little brother Dave Franco plays the head dealer of the school who everybody seems to know, while Brie Larson (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” also ironically penned by Bacall) has a winning smile as a cute girl on whom Hill’s character fosters a high school crush. The action scenes toward the end start to grow enervating the longer they go on, but I was able to forgive such slight quibbles in favor of the riotous first two acts.

And finally, let me address the burning question on everyone’s minds, which is the one asking whether or not Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise pop in for a quick moment of shameless fan service. Regular readers know that I really dislike revealing any hidden surprises that a film has to offer, and I will turn flat-out homicidal if somebody else spoils a film for me. So instead, I’ll leave you with advice: go see “21 Jump Street” if you are so inclined and pay particular close attention to the exchange between the two cop buddies and the station deputy that reassigns them. After fifteen minutes, mentally ask yourself whether or not the concept of “shameless fan service” sounds like a card the film holds in its carefully arranged deck of tricks.


1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Hill and Tatum are great together here and add a lot to this film’s comedy but it’s just the way it is all written that makes it even richer. It’s making fun of those high school comedy conventions but at the same time, is inventing it’s own as it goes on. Great review. Give mine a look when you can.