Friday, March 23, 2012

Love: 21 Jump Street

So, you know by now that 21 Jump Street is good.  You've heard it, you've seen it, if the Hunger Games is sold out I recommend you check it out.  Because, yeah, it's awesome and yeah, it's cramp-up-your-side funny. Yet, what's perhaps most remarkable about this latest TV-adaptation may not be its tremendous success as *mere* comedy (I say that knowing full well that comedy is crazy difficult).  For, while it's certainly impressive that the minds involved (co-writers Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall) were able to harvest big laughs and outrageous new material from a drecky 80's teen drama, it's maybe even more amazing that the result may not only be one of the best high school films since Superbad, but also one of strongest TV show adaptations. Ever.   21 Jump Street is one of those rare cases where a piece of kitsch nostalgia was passed through the film industry's relentless recycling program and emerged as, like, an expensive pair of shoes or a piece of modern art instead of another aluminum can.  Synopsis-wise, Jump Street follows the basic formula of its TV namesake -youthful looking police officers are sent undercover as students to bust up any number of illegal goings-on- but the similarities seem to end there... 

While I've honestly never seen a full episode of the original, and do have to admit that in some ways I have no idea what I'm talking about, I suspect that in less capable hands the comedy retelling of Jump Street operations could have easily turned rotten. It's pretty easy to see the way the story could have gone overboard into the land of the a slap-happy parody fully loaded with buxom 17-year olds and surprise sexting.  Somehow, though, it's not.  While Jump Street relishes the use of a well placed 'motherfucker' and takes great delight in a surplus of dick jokes, its 'legit' high school students look like teenagers, its parties are only moderately over-the-top, and its core relationship is surprisingly sweet.  Our cops in question were once on opposite ends of the high school food chain.  Back in the day (you know, 2005?), Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was the chunky, Eminem-loving nerd where Jenko (Channing Tatum) was a long-haired, dim-witted, jock.  Upon entering the police academy, however, the two form a beautiful friendship based in the shared knowledge of their individual shortcomings.  Namely: they're completely incompetent as officers of the law. Jenko can't remember the Miranda Rights, Schmidt can't complete an arrest.  Consequently, the two get sent to play overgrown teenage brothers in a high school overrun by a crazy dangerous synthetic drug. 
What follows is a strange combination of social satire and broad-stroke concept comedy.  The very notion of Channing Tatum passing for a high school student is laughable (Hill a little less so, but he has aged), as is the sheer difference between cool in 2005 and 2012.  The entire teenage landscape has changed in a handful of years, and one of the most obvious levels of humor here (second to the buddy cop element) arises from the opportunity to virtually time travel.  Schmidt and Jenko relive their teen years, and after a problematic swap in their secret identities, they find themselves becoming people very different from who they were seven years back. It's a bromantic affair to remember, and one that could have led to a series of one-off Austin Powers style jokes on Twitter or dubstep.  Instead, the high school social hierarchy is presented in a manner that almost completely subverts the accepted lunch-clique norm.  It feels real, somehow, at least when applied to my high school.  Here the truly popular kids, the same one who deal the drug in question, are not the jocks, but the environmentally-conscious, honor roll, drama kids who strum acoustic guitars as they share their beers and advocate for whatever cause strikes their fancy.  In this world, Jonah Hill is comparatively the straight man where Tatum is forced in to a sort of identity crisis.  Amazingly: he has the comic chops to pull it off and commits in full to the physicality of his role. They're as good a team as Hill and Michael Cera were all those years ago, and while it seems strange, something about the pairing (as they note in the film) works in spite of itself.  There's a scene early on in which our heroes are challenged by their target (Dave Franco) to take the drug and prove they aren't narcs.  If you can make it through the brilliant bit of ADD-insanity that follows without laughing?  You're getting too old for this shit.

1 comment:

  1. For an action comedy, "21 Jump Street" had less action or comedy than I expected. It felt as if I spent too much time waiting for something to happen-either for a joke to fire, or a pistol.


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