Thursday, March 15, 2012
Review: "21 Jump Street"
I give "21 Jump Street" a lot of points for trying. What looked to be a cynical reboot of an '80s TV show is actually a decently funny spoof that doesn't take itself too seriously.
It's the sort of flick in which the 30-ish stars seem slightly mortified at the idea of passing themselves off as high-schoolers, even as undercover police officers looking to infiltrate a ring of drug dealers. The joke-within-a-joke, of course, is that nearly every Hollywood movie set in high school regularly features actors in their mid- to late-20s portraying teens, and plenty north of 30.
I appreciated the nudge-nudge-wink-wink scene where two bumbling cops get told about their assignment to the 21 Jump Street program, which the police chief describes as revived thing from the 1980s that's being brought back because nobody has any new ideas, so they're just recycling old ones.
Pretty cool when a movie will zing itself.
Jonah Hill came up with the story along with Michael Bacall, the screenwriter who also penned the inventive "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller previously made "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," making them the latest in a string of animation guys to jump to live-action films. (Though "Meatballs" was their first feature film, so it wasn't like they were cartoon for life.)
Hill plays what his become his typical character, the nerdy loser who discovers untapped reservoirs of talent and confidence. In the amusing opening sequence, set in 2005, he's decked out in Eminem 'do and outfit, clumsily asking a girl to prom and being shot down very publicly. His chief tormenter is Tatum, a popular jock and would-be prom king, except his grades were so bad the principal wouldn't let him go to prom. (Not quite sure what academic system allows you to graduate but not go to a party, but there you have it.)
Hill's character is repeatedly teased for being fat, which is curious because of course Hill had a well-publicized massive weight loss, and could not even properly be called chubby now.
Flash to the present, and the two become best buds at the police academy. Unfortunately, they're assigned to the bike patrol in the city park, and somehow manage to mess up even that. As a last resort, they're assigned to Jump Street, where Ice Cube plays the captain, an angry black man who knows he's a caricature, but with these two idjits it's hard not to be P.O.'d all the time.
They're passed off as brothers and sent to infiltrate Sagan High School. In one of the movie's funnier riffs, the cool kids are no longer status-seeking snobs but politically correct ego-advocates. Tatum, trying to replicate his brash BMOC routine from back in the day, finds himself ostracized for punching out a gay kid and his gas-guzzling vintage muscle car. Hill, though, unexpectedly finds himself accepted as part of the new ruling elite, causing friction between the best bros.
There are plenty of good laughs, some witty and some crude, like the scene where they score drugs but are forced to take them on school grounds to prove they're not narcs, and try to make each other puke by sticking their fingers down the other guy's throat.
But the movie goes sideways somewhere in the middle, getting bogged down by Hill's budding romance with the cool drama girl (Brie Larson) and Tatum's bonding with some science nerds.
I liked the way "21 Jump Street" played around with the conventions of the genre -- including the two cops' repeated disappointment that more things don't explode during their big car chase. I didn't quite like it enough to give it a full green light, but it's nice to see a flick that far exceeds your expectations.
2.5 stars out of four