The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

21 Jump Street

Running for five seasons on FOX in the late 1980s and early 1990s, 21 Jump Street is mostly and fondly remembered now for giving Johnny Depp a starring role, one he turned into a hugely successful career. I was never a fan of the show, but I'm at least familiar with it so I was naturally a little confused when I saw it was being a comedy to be released in theaters. Skeptical, but a trailer sold me on it, and 2012's 21 Jump Street does not disappoint.

Having graduated from the police academy, screw-up cops Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are wasting away on bike patrol. When they finally do make a bust, it's for nothing, Jenko forgetting to read the suspect his Miranda rights. Instead they're given one last chance; go undercover as high school students with an undercover police outfit stationed at 21 Jump Street. A new synthetic drug has popped up at the school, and the outfit's captain, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), wants the duo to not only stop the mini-ring, but find out who the dealers and suppliers are. With no other option, they agree, but even in just six years, high school has changed drastically, and Jenko and Schmidt are in over their heads immediately.

Are there no original ideas out there? That's basically the point of a monologue delivered by the police captain (great one-scene part for Nick Offerman), asking why "the police" keep going through the same old things, the same old procedures. In other words, why do we keep watching the same shows and movies over and over again? It's a surprisingly funny, quick, little scene, one that helps this 2012 success poke a little fun at itself. Thankfully though, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller don't just go through the motions here. Instead of doing a straight remake of the 1980s cult and fan favorite, Lord and Miller tweak the formula. The "drama" and "mystery" are so far gone, it's a remake in name only. This is a comedy through and through, and it executes. It is a very funny -- sometimes smart, sometimes stupid, but always producing laughs -- comedy that doesn't go for status quo.

Some of my initial surprise came from the casting of Hill and Tatum as the two leads. It just didn't sound like a match made in heaven. Go figure. I couldn't have been more wrong. Hill and Tatum as the two leads is by far the best thing going here. It's like the Odd Couple on steroids, the buddy cop like we haven't seen previously in movies. In a brief intro, we see Schmidt as a nerd, Jenko as the cool athlete. Meeting again at the police academy, they strike up a genuine friendship, both helping the other out with a weakness (Schmidt with the physical, Jenko with his studies). Yes, the movie is funny, and dirty funny much of the time, but this surprisingly believable, very genuine brother-like relationship develops. I can honestly say I didn't see that coming. Tatum shows he can do comedy effortlessly -- both physical humor or selling a line -- and Hill again shows a knack for both the more exaggerated and the more subtle. He underplays some of his lines and really jumps into others as needed. Whatever they're doing, they do it well.

Tweaking the TV show jumping off point, 'Jump Street' has some fun with the teenage sex comedy. We've all seen enough of them to know the cliques, cliches, stereotypes and genre gimmicks. A nerd in school, Schmidt becomes one of the cool kids while Jenko bonds with the nerds. It is Jenko who blames Glee for changing the high school they both knew. The laughs come at you from all sides though, some smart, some dumb. A running gag about expecting more explosions as a cop is priceless, especially the pay-off in a high-speed freeway chase. Jenko and Schmidt sampling the synthetic drug is a high point as they go through the stages of the acid-like drug. And then there's the fact that neither looks like high school students...even a bit. Tatum is 32 years old, Hill is 28. The whole premise is ridiculous. Of course they don't look like high school students, and people notice but only to a point. They notice, but not enough to do anything about it. Moral of the story? Funny stuff from beginning to end.

Joining the cast are some surprising faces, almost all of them working perfectly. Ice Cube plays the cliched character; the angry black commanding officer and veteran cop, swearing at every opportunity and cursing his "officers" out. Dave Franco (James' brother) plays Eric, the head dealer at the school who hits it off immediately with Hill's Schmidt, while Brie Larson plays Molly, Eric's girlfriend who likes Schmidt for everything that Eric isn't. Dax Flame plays Zack, the most visible of the three science geeks Jenko bonds with. Also look for Rob Riggle, Chris Parnell and Ellie Kemper as three faculty members, Riggle the overzealous gym teacher, Parnell the bored drama teacher, and Kemper the science teacher drawn to Jenko. Riggle especially stands out. And yes, the original Jump Street cast shows up for cameos including Depp, Holly Robinson Peete and Peter DeLuise. Depp and DeLuise especially don't disappoint in a very funny appearance. See if you can spot Depp before the reveal.

Poking some fun at the cliches and stereotypes, 'Jump Street' doesn't stop at the comedy. In the finale as Schmidt and Jenko go toe-to-toe with the drug dealers, the action gets ratcheted up too. Loud, bloody and surprisingly still funny. Lots of slow motion (Tatum athletically avoiding obstacles, Hill stumbling over couches) and a shootout in a bunch of prom limos. Can't say you've seen that before, can you? I haven't. And the final scene certainly leaves the door open for a sequel, one I'll most likely go see too. For now, enjoy this one. It's a surprising success.

21 Jump Street <---trailer (2012): ***/****

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