Sunday, March 18, 2012

Movie Review: "21 Jump Street" by Alex Schopp

Let me just start by saying this wasn't anything close to what I was expecting from this film. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago I started to actually get interested for it. I wouldn't go as far as to say excited, but interested for sure. Before that point though, from the day I heard of plans for its creation, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I was never into the original television series, so there was no nostalgia for me. And really I'm not much of a fan of Channing Tatum or Jonah Hill either, so it seemed there was nothing significant this movie had to offer me.

I'm glad I got interested enough to venture out and see it though. This movie was fantastic.

"21 Jump Street" is a "remake" of the 1980's television show of the same title. That version starred Johnny Depp and was much more of a drama than anything else. This version, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Jenko and Schmidt, respectively, wasn't anything close to that. Here, we still get the basic plot of police officers going undercover to investigate crimes at the local high school. And since Tatum and Hill's characters are still young enough looking to pass as high school students, they're recruited for the assignment. That's pretty much where the similarities stop though. Otherwise, this film is extremely crude, raunchy and immature. It's a comedy that pays almost no homage to its original material, which once was serious and provided strong moral integrity for its viewers. And thank goodness for that - this adaptation is wonderful!

The basic tone of this movie is perfect for the type of subject it's adapting. It's completely over-the-top, and never once tries to take itself seriously. It explores all of the traditional tropes of the buddy cop genre, but then completely exploits them and turns them around. I don't think you'd quite label this movie a spoof per say, but it definitely mocks the genre, making a complete joke out of the entire premise for the film (pay particular attention to Nick Offerman's dialogue early on, it's great). What works so perfectly for this though is that you can genuinely see how much fun everyone is having on screen, and you can tell, tonally, everyone was on the exact same page.

Another thing that was great about this film was the commentary it made on the current high school scene. Though I haven't seen the new "Project X", which I imagine dives pretty nicely into the current scene, this movie is the best example I've seen of filmmakers trying to show that current culture. It's been amazing to me over the past few years how much different high school has become, and it was great to see these two characters going back to high school and being completely unprepared and unable to relate to the kids there. There's more to dive into here with the roles the characters take, and how it actually worked to broaden them and turn them into better friends and men in general, but I feel like this is material best if left unwritten. While it is just a comedy movie, I do believe that there's a lot to gain from going into this film without knowing or expecting too much. The middle act of this film is very entertaining though, and I love seeing the developments and paths these characters take in these scenes, when the action isn't at its high points.

And the surprise of the entire film for me: Channing Tatum's performance. Other than his few scenes in "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints", which I've praised on this site in the past, I've constantly been completely unimpressed and underwhelmed with each of his performances. He's lacked depth and an ability to form real connections with his co-stars. He started off as a model, and for me he's always come off as a model, never an actor. That was, until this performance. I don't know what those directors did, but some way or another, Tatum was able to convey depth, emotion, and very believable relationships. The chemistry on screen between him and Hill is amazing. I would have never thought that these two would play off of each other so well, but they really did. I believed this friendship fully, and loved every minute that they shared the screen together. The comedy was sharp and witty, and both actors made great use of this opportunity to have some fun. As for Hill's performance: it was solid, but we've all seen this type of stuff from him before. He did a great job with it, but Tatum easily shined through as the best actor in this film (I can't even believe I'm typing those words...).

If I had to nitpick at anything, it would be the casting of Rob Riggle and Ice Cube. Ice Cube doesn't generally bother me a ton, but for his role here, it was like, 'okay, I get it. How much has the over-the-top, profanity-laden boss been done recently?'. He didn't come off as real to me, and just felt like he was trying to be as over-the-top as possible. But he wasn't in it a whole lot, so it wasn't too bad. And Rob Riggle, honestly I just don't like that guy showing up in "real" movies. I know this was a comedy, but he's too goofy to be a real person to me. Every scene he was in completely took me out of the film. Again, he wasn't in it a ton, but it was enough that it annoyed me. Those may just be personal qualms though, I'm not sure if anyone else has the same feelings on those actors as I do. Mr. Cube's presence was more a problem with the role he had, not so much him as an actor; Riggle was the only person I was truly unhappy to see show up in this movie.

But overall, this is a great action-comedy. While ridiculously over-the-top and vulgar, it's hilarious the whole way through. There were many moments when I laughed aloud, and even when I wasn't, I'm pretty sure there was always a smile on my face. It was fun and so easy to watch. The last comedy I saw in theaters was "Bridesmaids". I thought that was one of the funniest movies I'd seen in a long time. This movie blew that out of the water.

If you haven't see this movie yet, go do so. It's exceptionally funny, and it's just one of those movies that clicks into place perfectly. Don't expect any type of awards recognition or anything like that, but if you want something funny, this is a film to see. I'm not sure if I want to put it ahead of "The Grey" just yet, but outside of that (and I know it's still early), this is the best movie I've seen all year.