Review: 21 Jump Street

The buddy comedy is just about as old as cinema itself, dating all the way to Laurel and Hardy. Ever since that duo appeared on screen, this pie piece of Hollywood comedy has had hits and misses over the past century, ranging from the riotous (Some Like it Hot), to the lowest common denominator (Dumb and Dumber). Its popularity is perhaps a testament to audience’s love for conflicting personalities, and nowhere is there more conflict than between two cops with entirely different perspectives. In retrospect, there’s no way that 21 Jump Street had any right to succeed. Not only was the film based on a largely forgotten television show from the 80’s, but its pairing of lead roles has to be among the oddest of couples assembled in quite some time. Defying the odds, 21 Jump Street proves to set a considerable bar for comedies this year, for although it takes all the expected narrative routes, its endearing duo and wealth of humor promotes it to a higher rank.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. The former is a piece of eye candy for the ladies who up until recently has strictly fit that function within the hierarchy of casting types. The latter is a recent comedic novelty as brought to the fore by the Apatow gang. Where one is muscular, handsome yet stoic, the other is rotund, awkward yet full of pathos. True, these two types clash together visually, but does that necessarily equate to chemistry? The answer is an unqualified yes. Portraying two recently graduated police officers who were once at odds with each other in high school, Tatum and Hill’s back story allows for their characters to grow and develop fairly organically as they infiltrate a drug infested high school. Hill assumes the role of the stereotypical nerd who is forced to take on drama classes, whereas Tatum’s jock is unwillingly placed into an AP Chemistry class.  The most impressive aspect of their duality is how well each compliments the other. Clashing personalities are not always a sure bet for genuine drama and entertainment in cinema, but Tatum’s stoic tom foolery paired with Hill’s manic anal retention makes for a memorable combination.

The other supporting roles are just as crucial to 21 Jump Street which bases so much of its drama on its wealth of dramatic irony.  Among the duped students that stand out are Dave Franco (younger brother of James) as the dealer of drugs on campus as well as Brie Larson as the girl Hill falls for, yet lacks the courage to commit his feelings towards. Other roles  include the reliable yet underrated Rob Riggle as the high school gym teacher and even Ice Cube as the bombastic officer to whom Tatum and Hill report back their findings. The overall narrative arc is somewhat predictable, and some of the situations Tatum and Hill find themselves in are far too ridiculous for realism, but that is precisely what makes the film entertaining. Without either’s commitment to the performances, not matter how outlandish, none of this would work, which is why the film’s hint of self consciousness plays to its advantage. Even when the film devolves into by the numbers action and chase sequences, the general execution may be stale, but the film knowingly plays at its own ludicrousnessIn fact, the abundance of humor in 21 Jump Street plays on multiple levels which all serve the story. Even gross out jokes which I usually detest are nevertheless entertaining due to their contexts and narrative relevance. Perhaps this is key factor for the film’s winning style: it may not have any big themes on its mind, but when it comes to bringing the laughs, it is completely centered on the shifting dynamic between two cops who are in way over their heads.

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~ by romancinema on April 5, 2012.

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