I really didn’t want to like this movie. As much as a critic is supposed to come to the table without bias and judge everything on it’s own merit, I am, as every other member of the human race, a supremely biased animal and the fact is I can’t stand Jonah Hill and, as I think I said in my review of Haywire (like I’m going to take the time to accurately quote myself), Channing Tatum has proven in the past to be “a pine two by four with a haircut.”
And while I still am not a Jonah Hill convert (he remains the weakest part of every movie I’ve seen him in), it turns out that all Channing Tatum needed was a comedic role in which he could loose his freak flag and run wild, like a ‘roided-up bull raging in a Home Depot-sized china shop. I may stand by my previous assessment of his dramatic chops, but he is definitely the highlight of the film; a dumbass that skated by on his looks, riddled with insecurity and panicking upon finding that his natural environment doesn’t exist anymore. The biggest laugh of the movie is his, an instant classic scene that takes place while he is tripping the narcotic fantastic. If he is not quoted regularly from this movie by the current generation of 14-30 year-olds almost immediately, I will be gob-smacked.
Now, I loved Stephen J. Cannell as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy grew up in the 80s and watched the hell out of The A-Team, but 21 Jump Street was a pretty goofy idea for a TV show to begin with. The 20-something actors that usually play teenagers on TV playing 20-something cops infiltrating high schools of 20-something looking actors playing high schoolers. So, like a lot of the better TV show adaptations, The film version of 21 Jump Street simply embraces it’s surreal premise to the hilt while simultaneously mocking it relentlessly. Jokes about recycling old crap from years ago abound. Tatum and Hill don’t look at all like high schoolers and this is pointed out on several occasions by nearly all parties involved. It also takes the rather smart idea of making a good chunk of the story about the wish-fulfillment of a high school do-over. Who hasn’t thought about how much better high school would be if you could go back with the knowledge and experience that has followed? So when the officers make the leap, they think they know what to expect, not realizing just how different the high school experience is than just ten years ago. Early on, they try to identify the students by clique and end up utterly bewildered by the increased number of niche cultures now exploding in the student body. Retro-fueled swing kids, hipsters, girls that look like they’re doing half-assed anime cosplay… “I don’t know what the f*** that is.”
Tatum, a former jock that now finds himself on the outs when he tries doing the same stuff that made him cool just seven years ago, has a theory about what happened. “F*** you, Glee.” Right there with you, boss.
And when a scene shows a girl playing a record, yet confused about getting an actual call on her phone instead of getting a text, their confusion seems justified. It’s just the little tweak that the premise needed to make it work.
Add in some inventively comic action scenes that effectively build on themselves in both tension and comedy and a lot of extremely funny secondary characters played by the dependable Ellie Kemper, Ron Riggle and Chris Parnell, and it becomes something I didn’t expect going in; a consistently funny comedy with an abundance of cleverness and crude excess.
It clearly earns it’s R rating with graphic swearing used like punctuation and a bewildering array of sexual references and violence. It seems determined to marry Apatow-isms to a Beverly Hills cop-type formula and for the most part succeeds, seeming to increase it’s laughs the more over-the-top the juxtaposition.
Most importantly, it’s just plain funny.
(Three and a half out out of five stars)