Monday, May 28, 2012
21 Jump Street in a Good School District
Posted by Courtney Small
There came a moment in 21 Jump Street when my wife nearly choked on her snack after being caught off guard by a joke. It was at this moment that I knew the film had finally cracked her cool exterior. Although she is still reluctant to call 21 Jump Street a good film, the amount of times the film made her laugh out loud tells a far different story. One of the reasons that some, my wife included, may be hesitant to acknowledge 21 Jump Street as a solid film is because the film really should not work at all. On paper, the idea of taking a 80’s television drama and turning it into a screwball comedy sounds disastrous. However, what no one anticipated was that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller would turn the film in to a spot-on commentary of modern high school life.
The premise of the film finds two lackluster cops, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), being assigned to the undercover unit located at 21 Jump Street. Their first assignment finds the two men going undercover as high school students to infiltrate a drug ring. At first the assignment seems like the perfect job for Jenko and a nightmare for Schmidt. When they were both in high school together, Jenko was the popular jock who was a hit with the ladies, while Schmidt was the awkward nerd who faced humiliation on an almost daily basis. As the pair assume their new undercover identities, it quickly becomes apparent that a lot has changed since they were last in high school.
Aside from several sly references, and a few brilliant cameos, there is not a lot about 21 Jump Street the film that hardcore fans of the show will recognize. This allows Lord and Miller the freedom to take the film in a completely different, and dare we say refreshing, direction. The key to enjoying 21 Jump Street is to look at it more as a high school comedy than a buddy cop film. The film achieves the biggest laughs when it focuses on the upside down world that modern high school has become.
Despite only being seven or so years removed from high school, the archetypes that Jenko and Schmidt are used to no longer exist. As they each get a taste of what the other went through in high school, we see how they both struggle with the nuances of high school life today. Jenko is constantly baffled by how the pecking order has changed. Violence is no longer cool and diversity is something that is to be embraced and not mocked. Even someone like Schmidt, who adapts quickly to the new way of life, fumbles at times. In one subtle, but amusing, scene Schmidt calls up a girl to talk only to realize that teenagers rarely talk on the phone anymore. All communication is done through texting or social networking sites. It is the many moments like this that really make 21 Jump Street sustain the laughs at a fairly consistent rate.
The performances by both Tatum and Hill are strong, though Tatum is the real standout. This is partly because Tatum normally plays the tough, but sensitive, serious type so we do not often get to see his comedic talents shine. Tatum displays good comedic timing as he keeps up with Hill every step of the way. Though the supporting characters are not quite as memorable as the two leads, there are some surprises towards the end of the film that not only generate laughs, but tie the story together nicely. 21 Jump Street is not a deep film but it never strives to be. As a comedy about high school life the film delivers all the laughs you would hope for. Unlike my reluctant wife, I have no shame in saying that 21 Jump Street was an entertaining experience.