Monday, March 26, 2012

21 Jump Street: Really Smart and Really Funny

NOTE: There's some naughty language in this post, but I'm writing about a naughty movie, so what the fuck?

Well, I gotta hand it to Jonah Hill. Fresh off his Oscar-nominated performance in Moneyball (if you don't count the stinker The Sitter), he scores again with a rowdy comedy that spoofs the now barely remembered '80s Fox TV series that made Johnny Depp a star.

In a 2005 prologue, we meet nerdy high-schooler Schmidt (Hill), in full Eminem drag, trying to ask a pretty classmate to the prom, but before he can even get the words out, she's pleading with him not to do it. Watching the proceedings is Jenko (Channing Tatum), one of the cool kids, who mocks Schmidt's desperate attempt, causing him to run away in shame.

But later, Jenko (who's not the sharpest knife in the drawer) is humiliated by a teacher for being stupid, and we next find them sitting on separate benches wiping away their tears, and it's a testament to the filmmakers' cleverness that this scene is actually quite touching, humanizing the characters from the outset.

Seven years later, Schmidt and Jenko are training in the same police academy. Jenko can't pass his written exam, so he turns to his former adversary for help, and they form an unlikely bond: Schmidt will help with the scholastic requirements and Jenko will coach Schmidt in athletics.

After a lame drug bust foiled by Jenko's inability to remember the Miranda Rights, things look grim until they are recruited to go undercover as high school students by the perpetually pissed-off Captain Dickson (an amusing performance by Ice Cube) to sniff out and arrest the manufacturers of a synthetic drug called Holy Fucking Shit—HFS for short. They watch a YouTube video of a kid experiencing the effects of HFS, broken down into four hilarious stages: “the Giggs”, “Tripping Balls”, “Insane Over-Confidence” and—finally—“Holy Motherfucking Shit.” Stage Five can either be "Asleepyness" or death.

To keep their cover, the guys have to go live with Schmidt's parents, whose house is near the school they're going to attend. But when they show up for their first day of class, they're confused by the cliques, whose members they can't identify with. And when Jenko makes fun of a kid for listening to "gay" music, he readily admits that he is gay, and his classmates stand up for him. It's a whole new world.

Schmidt, meanwhile, begins to realize that he has a chance to be one of the school's cool kids, getting involved in the drama club and track and field. Conversely, Jenko finds himself bonding with the geeks in the science lab. It's a fun twist on normal expectations that is well-supported by a clever script. Indeed, the film's sunny view of high school students as liberal, nonjudgmental and post-bigotry, is a breath of fresh air.

The partners finally track down a student dealing HSW, Eric Molson (Dave Franco, brother of James, whom many will remember from the hilarious "You're So Hot" video with Christopher Mintz-Plasse). They buy a couple of hits from him, but he wants them to prove they're not narcs by taking the drug in his presence. They do, and we get to watch them go through the four aforementioned stages in a foot-stompingly hilarious sequence.

Schmidt falls for Molly (Brie Larson), a sweet girl in drama club, but has to keep his dick in check because she's just a kid. And Ms. Griggs (Ellie Kemper), the chemistry teacher, also has to keep her hands to herself when she's tempted by the supposedly jailbait hunk-o-Jenko.

But some students clearly see through the ruse; one of the geeks (Dax Flame) asks, "You look really old. How long were you held back?", to which Jenko responds, "You look really young. How long were you held forward?" Social media success story: Flame created himself on YouTube and is also currently in the outta-control party movie Project X.

The action sequences are a scream. When Jenko and Schmidt are being pursued by bikers involved in the manufacture of HFS, they keep shooting at trucks containing high-level explosives and fuel, only to wonder why they aren't blowing up. Incidental scenes are equally hilarious, as when Schmidt, in his bedroom, phones Molly to engage in some high school small talk, only to have Jenko rush in, beat the shit out of him, dry-hump him, and otherwise engage in hilariously brotherly behavior to ruin the moment. It's comedy gold.

Hill's Schmidt is a well-realized character, maintaining his geekiness while trying to spread his new-found wings as one of the cool kids at last. Hill was also responsible for co-writing the story, and it definitely demonstrates that he can double careers (a valuable thing these days). Tatum, who was so impressive in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Fighting (I didn't see his teen smoochy or dancy films), seems to be having a blast sending up his bruised beauty image here, and it's infectious.

Yes, there are cameos by original Jump Street alumni, but to find out who participated, you'll have to go see the film. I hope my review has persuaded you to do so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The movie is far more entertaining than the '80s series ever was!


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