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21 Jump Street: This Terrific Comedy Shoots To Kill

There’s a line early on in 21 Jump Street, the very funny live-action debut of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, where Nick Offerman’s police chief character is explaining the premise of the undercover program that sends cops to work in schools. He states, in the trademark Offerman deadpan, that the police in charge aren’t creative enough to come up with new ideas, so they dust off old properties from the 1980s they’re familiar with and reboot them. No one can accuse this film of being unaware– this movie toes the line between earnest and ironic flawlessly, never becoming too serious or too tongue-in-cheek. It manages to parody while resting comfortably within the genres of high school film, cop film, and buddy comedy. While like most comedies nowadays, it runs at least ten minutes too long, it’s an appealing, sharp, and raunchy laughfest, more successful than any non-Bridesmaids studio comedy released last year.

In high school, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was your typical nerdy loser harassed by popular kids like Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), a terrific athlete who is dumb as a brick. In the police academy, they help each other make the force, but when a botched arrest leads to disgrace, they are sent undercover at the local high school to seek out the supplier of a new synthetic drug that all the students are using. The plan seems simple: Jenko will resume being a popular kid and Schmidt will be a nerd once more. However, a mix-up of the assumed identities along with the unexpected changes in the definition of cool leads Schmidt to fall in with the cool crowd as Jenko lingers on the outside with the losers. They both have to tackle their struggles from their youth while also attempting to weasel their way deeper into the drug community to identify the perps and save the day.

Lord and Miller, working off of a script by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World writer Michael Bacall, take every opportunity to flip a stereotype on its head. Take their first arrival to the new high school: Jenko informs Schmidt that they need to pull up in a slick car to impress the cool kids, but when they arrive, they criticize the poor gas mileage the car gets. Saving the environment is cooler now, it seems, than style. These brainy eco-friendly and generally affable villains endlessly frustrate Jenko. Ice Cube also gets plenty of laughs as the very self-aware “angry black captain,” who yells angrily even when he’s not angry. Beware the moment when the captain stops yelling. Every character you recognize from these high school and cop dramas is present, but they are all executed in inventive ways that would absolutely baffle lazier genre writers. It also helps when actors who are funny in every movie they’re ever in like Chris Parnell and Rob Riggle are in the cast

The buddy comedy narrative necessitates that the characters have some sort of falling out two thirds of the way through, only to get back together to help each other in the final act. The film didn’t need it– it strains to make that plot turn stick, and it adds unnecessary length to an already 2+ hour film. Outside of that sadly typical turn of events, the movie feels fresh and bouncy at every step. The humor stays raunchy without ever getting overly gross. Jonah Hill is right at home, and Channing Tatum has never looked more comfortable than he does in this self-referential role (it’s a far superior performance to Mark Wahlberg in The Other Guys). Most notably, the film serves as an announcement by Lord and Miller that their creativity and gleeful pop culture mining aren’t relegated to the world of animation. They are a major talent who know exactly how to gently mock and earn emotional investment from an audience– Mark Mothersbaugh, who also did the music for Lord and Miller’s last feature, the stellar Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, does terrific work again here as the perfect parody of the bombastic action film score. They have the line perfectly toed, better than any other American filmmaker dabbling in studio genre send-ups. 21 Jump Street got eye rolls from me from conception to commercial. The fact that it’s one of the funniest comedies in years shows that no matter what the property, always follow and trust in strong directors. Lord and Miller have penned their names on that list in Sharpie.

A quick postscript on spoilers in film reviews: there is at least one major surprise in this film that is being spoiled in countless publications, no doubt in hopes of drumming up further box office. It doesn’t need spoiling– this movie’s funny enough to have legs– and until you see the film, don’t read anything else about it.

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~ by russellhainline on March 18, 2012.

3 Responses to “21 Jump Street: This Terrific Comedy Shoots To Kill”

  1. I was shocked that I loved this movie. Easily one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. The one-liners are gold and who knew Channing Tatum could be hilarious? Not to mention Johnny Depp’s cameo was amazing!

  2. Reblogged this on La Quinta Inn & Suites Omaha/Carter Lake and commented:
    The hottest movie in America. Check it out!

  3. […] FILM: 25. Anna Karenina 24. Cloud Atlas 23. Chronicle 22. Headhunters 21. Skyfall 20. Lawless 19. 21 Jump Street 18. The Grey 17. Argo 16. Zero Dark Thirty 15. The Hobbit (in HFR) 14. Life of Pi (in 3D) 13. The […]

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