“We’re, like, in the end of ‘Die Hard’ right now, only it’s our actual life!”
Yes! Finally, somebody in Hollywood decided to use their powers of re-invention for good! For far too long, we’ve been seeing endless re-hashing of beloved classics. Why not re-make something that had potential but actually sucked?! The original 21 Jump Street television series took itself very seriously, but suffered from terrible writing and even worse performances. It has nostalgic camp value, but other than that, the only thing it really did well was launch the career of Johnny Depp—who obviously went on to do far better things with his time.
21 Jump Street is not the sort of film I normally pay money to see. Here are three points it earns in My Big Book Of Things I Don’t Like In Movies: It stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, it is a remake, it is a broad frat-boy comedy. The only reason I had any interest in seeing the film was the fact that it was getting rave reviews from critics and friends who—by their own admission—would normally hate this type of film.
It was an unexpected treat! The humour is broad, yes, but it is genuine. The film knows that it’s ridiculous and doesn’t apologize for it. It owns its ridiculousness proudly, and sets itself up appropriately. In a world where a guy can pass Police Academy without ever having learned the Miranda rights, almost anything goes. Our two leads are absurdly ill-equipped to function properly in a world that doesn’t make much sense to them. Their over-the-top behaviour is made even funnier and more genuine by the reactions of the characters around them. Unlike some comedies of this sort, the supporting players are not oblivious to the overtly inappropriate behaviour. They call it out, but they also accept it, and try to incorporate it into their own reality.
When, for example, Jenko (Channing Tatum) doesn’t know the Miranda rights, the chief of police is aware of this as being a problem. However, rather than simply dismissing him entirely, he tries to fit him into his force by recognizing and employing his strengths—the fact that he looks young! When he and his partner, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) go undercover as students at a local highschool, the various students and teachers at the school, although shocked and appalled by their bizarre behaviour, eventually try to help them fit into the aspects of school life that would best suit them.
What I like most about the story is its acknowledgement of the transient nature of popularity. Our two leads come from a high school world that made sense to them. Jenko was an athletic but unmotivated underachiever—cool. Schmidt was a short and chubby guy into rap culture who excelled academically—un-cool. Suddenly, they find themselves thrust into a school world where the rules have changed. They are disconcerted when they discover that motivation, sensitivity, social awareness, and academic excellence are cool; whereas bullying, ignorance and apathy are very un-cool. In this world, our leads still struggle to be accepted, but their roles are reversed. The stereotypes still exist, but they are subverted and difficult to define. The movie suggests that, when all is said and done, you really just have to be true to yourself and let the cards fall where they will. Ah… feeling warm fuzzies all over!
My one substantial problem with the film is the shot in the penis gag near the end. I was fine with it, until we saw it lying in the middle of the road and its owner tries to pick it up—while handcuffed—with his teeth. Really? That’s just gross, but the kind of over-the-top gross that hasn’t been established within the vocabulary of the movie. It seems out-of-place, and an appalling final touch to such a raucous but relatively easy-to-take film. Maybe I’m just uptight, but it was the one embellishment that threatened to kill all the warm fuzzy feelings the movie had worked so hard to create.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have real chemistry, and the film allows them to be vulnerable and sincere. This isn’t cheap shtick; it’s character-driven comedy—over-the-top yet genuine. The film even plays into one of my weaknesses. I have a soft-spot for intimate scenes of male bonding, especially when they involve one guy helping another with some manly task like shaving or throwing a punch. Shortly after a falling out, Schmidt and Jenko are getting dressed up for the prom, and as a way of making amends, Schmidt reaches over and helps to tighten Jenko’s tie. I find this sort of thing subtly erotic and very sweet. I’ve now got a little crush on Jonah Hill. Please don’t tell anybody.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writers: Michael Bacall (screenplay), Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill (story)
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube