21 Jump Street

Spoiler Alert: It’s Good


Review written by Robert Patrick

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum

21 Jump Street’s wonky, bombastic action premise is ramped up with crude jokes and staccato delivery. These aforementioned comedy tropes bring to mind the barbed brains of directors such as Todd Phillips and Adam McKay. Strangely, 21 Jump Street is directed by the duo held responsible for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the children’s film where an animated Anna Faris gets pelted by falling comfort food. Michael Bacall, the screenwriter of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, provides 21 Jump Street’s slick, perverse banter. With this update of the 1980s series of the same name, 21 Jump Street somehow manages to cull, more consistently than not, effectiveness from the newly trim Jonah Hill and the forever masculine Channing Tatum. The quips bristle with energy and wit, even when the typically vapid Tatum skulks around on screen. Someone must have sold their soul on the crossroads to make Tatum have a semblance of screen presence, because, with this performance alone, he convinces otherwise unforgiving audiences that he can do more than flex muscle and jut out his chin.

Hill and Tatum play two buffoonish cops that anticlimactically bike around parks and look, emphatically, for their big break. When they mess up their big chance, both of the officers are sent to a secret division on Jump Street, where, because of their age and looks, go undercover as high school students. Their goal? Find the narcotics king that is slinging a new hybrid drug. The premise is pretty muted in creativity, but screenwriter Bacall takes the seemingly bland backdrop and makes it a canvas to lampoon everything around him. The film is self-deprecating, strangely earnest, unpredictably riotous. Hill and Tatum are recipients of the quintessential “odd couple” serum; one bumbles and one poses. Luckily the makers of 21 Jump Street didn’t make the movie as a straight film; by restructuring the dramatic innards of the television show to fit a contemporary, vulgar, flash fire comedy was in their best interest – and ours. If the recipe hadn’t changed, we would have been stuck with something reminiscent of the dreadful Mod Squad remake (notable for Omar Epps playing a plank of wood).

Implausible as it seems, Ice Cube actually turns in a decent performance; this despite the role simply calling for him to viciously bark, aggressively point, or anchor his eyebrows at the smarmy behavior of Hill and Tatum. There isn’t really a bad supporting turn in the film. And this shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they were able to make the stone browed Tatum look affable if not altogether talented. Even Hill’s pulpy dialogue, containing everything from obligatory penis jokes to stuttering uncertainties about religion, is one of the funniest, most genuinely engaging performances, in his career. 21 Jump Street is also the first time an Oscar nominee has made gags about male genitalia since Martin Landau in Ed Wood. Again, and most pleasantly, the story here is that the broad shouldered behemoth and habitual ladykiller Channing Tatum does an amiable job of jabbing fun of his alpha male persona, giving the most leery of filmgoers a reason to molt their apprehensions about the usually stoic frontman. Chase all of these elements down with a clever, volatile screenplay that has more bite than four rows of shark teeth and you have a spitfire comedy that headbutts would be naysayers.

4 out of 5

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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