Thursday, November 27, 2014

Random Movie: 21 Jump Street (2012)

If you would have asked me six months ago about the 21 Jump Street remake, I likely would have had a pained look on my face paired with an enthusiastic thumbs down. I wouldn't have been the only one as #pbf remarked in his rant just prior to its release. As the premiere grew closer and I kept seeing more trailers and clips, I felt a small glimmer of hope that it could actually be good. Yes, even with Duke himself, Channing Tatum, playing a lead role.

I can't say I am a fan of the originating series but nor am I a foe. Given that I was five when it premiered and never caught it in reruns, I was not as perturbed at the piggy-backing on a famous name as some. Yet, like most in the movie-watching world, I am leery and over saturated with crap movies churned out simply because they ride the coattails of nostalgia. Thankfully, I believe Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall share that sentiment as Jump Street is not just an empty box office cash-grab for the fans of a nearly thirty year old series. For starters, yes, the film is a comedy whereas the series (from what I've been educated on) was more angst and drama. I guess that makes this more of a re-imagining? But beyond culling the basic premise from the series and sending undercover police officers Hill and Tatum back to high school, Jump Street is almost equal parts gross-out comedy, buddy cop comedy, fish-out-of-water comedy, and satire, especially pertaining to the hollowness of Hollywood productions of recent memory.

It sounds mighty ambitious but with the directorial team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Jump Street ends up being a wonderful example of not only how to not crap upon an existing property (cough, Nightmare on Elm Street redux) but how to make a hugely entertaining movie from start to finish. The biggest asset to the film is the chemistry between Hill and Tatum as the misfit policing duo. Years ago, Jenko (Tatum) was the guy who cared more about sports and girls than passing high school while Schmidt (Hill) was the nerdy, Eminem wanna-be with no social skills to speak of. Perhaps the fact that he was emulating a pop culture icon half a decade too late is part of the reason why. As they come up together in the generic Metropolitan Police Academy, they forge a friendship since Jenko is too obtuse to know all of the Miranda rights and Schmidt cannot even intimidate a child who unlawfully feeds waterfowl. After an arrest goes embarassingly bad, the two are reassigned under the angry and black captain Ice Cube to pose as teenagers to bust up a drug ring.

Immediately, the tables are turned on the two as Jenko's lazy and punchy ways are deemed intolerant while Schmidt's sensitivity and intellect are honored in modern high school. Some of the best moments in the film are the two coming to grips with their new status in the social pecking order as Schmidt is welcomed by the cool kids, including James' little brother Dave Franco while Jenko is stuck hanging out with chemistry nerds. Eventually, the two manage to infiltrate the drug ring and discover that weird eco-loving hippy kids are the ones behind it. Yeah, it\'s been a while since I was in high school as well.

The filmmakers were smart in turning Schmidt and Jenko's training and regular police business into a tightly edited vignette but it sets the stage nicely for the rest of the laughs to roll in. In fact, unlike many recent comedies I can think of, Lord and Miller cut away at the apex of a humorous scene as opposed to letting it run painfully long like your average SNL skit. And for such a fluffy harmless comedy, most of the characters are clearly defined with Jenko and Schmidt having touching and still quite funny character arcs.

Given the right film, you cannot deny that Jonah Hill is a talented actor and even though his emaciated face looks a bit odd, he embodies the typical awkward kid who is ecstatic at another chance at popularity. And while Channing Tatum is typically placed just a few rungs higher than Pauly Shore, his charisma and comedic timing almost purge my fleeting memories of that damn G.I. Joe movie. The rest of the film is populated with other good actors like Brie Larson and comedic relief from Rob Riggle and Chris Parnell to leave no character unmemorable in one way or another.

#pbf is probably mad at me for liking this one so much. Not as mad as he'll be at himself when he gets around to it though.