Saturday, March 24, 2012

"21 Jump Street" (2012)

Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Dave Franco
Written by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Rated R - Violence, language, drug use
Trailer (Red Band)

In high school, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) hated each other.  Schmidt was a loser and Jenko was the popular jock.  Years later, the two bump into each other again as they're entering the police academy and discover that they need each others' help.  Schmidt helps Jenko with the written and academic parts while Jenko helps Schmidt with the physical fitness requirements.  Soon enough, the two become the best of friends, graduate and are put on park duty where then run afoul of some suspected drug dealers.

After making their first arrest, they're upset to learn that the charges were dropped because Jenko and Schmidt decided to hump and taunt the suspect instead of reading him his rights.  To get rid of them, their captain transfers them to a special undercover unit on Jump Street run by the angry Captain Dickson (Ice Cube).  The two are sent undercover to a nearby high school as two brothers to investigate a new drug called HFS (Holy Fucking Shit) after a student ODs and dies.

On their first day, Jenko gets in trouble for punching a gay black student while trying to prove that he's cool, and accidentally screws up their identities with the principal.  Now dumb Jenko is forced to take AP chemistry while Schmidt has to take drama and join the track team while they investigate just who is dealing the drugs, and ultimately discover who the supplier is and make the bust without breaking their cover.  But all the while, the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko is breaking down as Schmidt becomes the popular kid on campus while Jenko's outdated ideas about what is cool put him on the outs with everyone except a couple of geeks from his chemistry class.  Ultimately, these two will have to finish the case, save the girl and stop the bad guys, if they can stop bickering and finally prove themselves as competent officers of the law.

Color me surprised - but Channing Tatum is actually really funny.  I can't even believe I just wrote that sentence.  I've seen him previously in some of his more... uh.... dramatic attempts, and he's just a pretty awful dramatic actor.  Even here, the parts that require him to be serious fall flat.  But the parts that require him to act like an immature jackass are totally hilarious.

That's the biggest surprise of this entire movie (aside from some hilarious cameos at the climax) is that Channing Tatum is actually funny.  He works well with Hill, but even on his own when he gets to act like a weirdo, he gets some of the film's biggest laughs.  As far as I'm concerned, he's far outside his comfort zone and really pulls it off.  By contrast, Hill, even though he lost a ton of weight for this role, seems to be entirely within the roles he's always played.  He gets to act all awkward and nervous and spout quietly hilarious lines, and so while he's quite funny, there's really nothing here that we haven't seen him do before (aside from all the physical action parts).

There are a number of really funny sequences in this film, including one where Schmidt and Jenko have to do drugs during school to prove that they're not narcs, and immediately run to the bathroom but can't figure out how to make themselves throw up.  This leads to the two writhing around in a bathroom stall putting their fingers in each others' mouths, and it's totally wrong and hilarious.  But it also kind of works with the obvious homosexual undertones in the relationship of the two.  At one point, Schmidt, in the middle of a tense gunfight, looks over at Jenko and says, "Let's make a baby" in an attempt to be badass.

There are plenty of funny cameos and minor roles sprinkled throughout the movie.  Ice Cube gets some good laughs as Schmidt and Jenko's "stereotype angry black captain", Rob Riggle as the douchey high school track coach, Ellie Kemper as Jenko's horny chemistry teacher, Nick Offerman as a sarcastic police captain, and even some surprise visits from members of the original '21 Jump Street' TV show.

While most of the movie is straight comedy, there are a couple of really solid and well-made action sequences.  A freeway chase in which Schmidt and Jenko keep running into traffic jams is hilarious, and the climax of the film featuring gunfights and car chases during the high school prom is also pretty fun.  There's not a lot of action here, but it's properly done - a lot of these action comedies fail by not being able to produce action as well as they do the comedy, but that's not an issue here.

"21 Jump Street" is a surprise.  Sure, the story is totally predictable - it goes just where you expect it to, but the script is funny, the cast is on their game (Channing Tatum.  Seriously.), and there some cool action sequences.  Don't fuck with Korean Jesus.