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Thursday, March 15, 2012
THIS WEEK AT THE MOVIES
BRENDAN REVIEWS THE NEW 21 JUMP STREET!
ITS BACK TO CAPTURE A NEW GENERATION
21 Jump Street is a surprisingly perceptive,
guffaw-inducingly funny high school comedy.
Notionally, this is a remake of a half-remembered American television show from the 1980s in which a squad of youthful police officers, including a pre-fame Johnny Depp, posed as teenagers in order to solve teen-centric crimes. Co-writers Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill wittily use this premise to explode the image of high school perpetuated by the film industry’s emphatically un-teenage screenwriters, along with a selection of cars, trucks and hotel rooms.
Hill and Channing Tatum star as officers Schmidt and Jenko, two young cops who are recruited into this recently-recommissioned scheme in order to bring down a high school drug ring. “We’re reviving an undercover police programme from the 80s because nobody around here will back original ideas any more,” sneers their sergeant, with an implicit wink.
The partners were classmates once themselves (a brief prologue shows strapping Jenko tormenting flabby Schmidt in accordance with the age-old jock vs nerd dynamic) and on arrival at school, they start mentally dividing the pupils into the peer groups with which they are familiar. But as the camera pans around the playground, they’re both left dumbstruck.
What they see doesn’t fit with their expectations of high school; nor with ours of high school comedy. Here, there are new cliques – emos, hipsters, Harajuku girls – and neither Jenko nor Schmidt has the foggiest idea who any of them are. It’s a revelatory, seltzer-spray-to-the-face moment, followed almost instantly by another: a brilliantly perceptive skit in which Jenko baits a fellow pupil because he sounds gay. Except he is gay, and out, and his classmates regard that as totally unremarkable. The old school rules no longer apply.
Schmidt and Jenko’s investigation proves to be every bit as pacy and pyrotechnic as police work usually is in a mainstream studio picture, but directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who previously collaborated on the animation Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, invest the frequent action set-pieces with a cartoonish physicality unusual in a film that’s otherwise rooted in the Judd Apatow tradition of improv-heavy comedy.
The two leads also make for an unexpectedly effective partnership: Hill, who became this year’s least-likely Oscar nominee for soaring above expectations in a supporting role in Moneyball, is an ideal foil for the increasingly watchable Tatum, who here showcases a hitherto invisible flair for broad comedy. As their mission brings them into contact with an affable young dealer (Dave Franco, the eerie spit of his brother James), snarky, schlubby Schmidt finds it easier to blend with the in-crowd than the unapologetically alpha Jenko. The power shift in the pair’s relationship is vividly realised, and as old wounds are reopened, we feel every spark in the back-and-forth crackle of resentment.
Would any of this matter if 21 Jump Street wasn’t funny? Perhaps, but it is; frequently and guffaw-inducingly so. The film makes high school comedy feel young again: considering its stars are in their late 20s and early 30s, that’s no mean feat.