Watched Mar 18, 2012
The 3 months between the end of the awards season and the blockbuster packed summer sits a vast cinematic wasteland. At best you might be treated to the final, triumphant throes of a surprise hit enjoying an Oscars generated boost (The Artist) or a promising but untested tentpole movie (The Hunger Games). More often than not however, you'll be stuck choosing between underwhelming films that would be crushed in a more competitive slot (The Raven, Contraband, John Carter - I could go on, but I'm already bored just listing them).
All of which goes a long way towards explaining why 21 Jump Street is an unexpected treat, a cinematic amuse bouche that's just nourishing enough to tide over starving cinephiles until the summer banquet kicks off in April with the arrival of Avengers Assemble. Reviving yet another cult 80s TV show (most notable for launching the career of one John Christopher Depp), Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, a pair of high school enemies turned police academy best buds. After conducting the most disastrous arrest since Rodney King was pulled over by the LAPD, they're booted to 21 Jump Street to conduct an undercover investigation into a new designer drug sweeping across schools under the angry, black tutelage of Ice Cube's stereotype embracing police captain. The fact that this all happens inside the first ten minutes and appears to have provided most of the trailer footage (meaning for once that the trailer isn't an abridged version of the movie), is one more reason to warm to this unpretentious remake.
Where most back-to-school films serve up a neat revenge of the nerds riff, where the high school loser is transformed into prom queen via the magic of a movie make over, Jump Street serves up an extra twist by booting Channing Tatum's Prom King down the pecking order. In fact, one of the film's key achievement's is presenting a post-Glee version of high school, a microcosm of society more complex and unfathomable than basic quantum mechanics. While Hill accidentally stumbles into the hipster crowd (a brand new addition to the high school food chain), Tatum's brute force approach to Being Cool finds him sliding down the high school hierarchy and into the nerd herd (never mind the fact that there's no universe in which Tatum's square jaw wouldn't put him at the top of the school jungle).
Unsurprisingly, there's little in the way of actual police work, with most of the film's time and energy spent on a whirlwind series of set pieces (a lurid trip and a house party rumble being particular stand outs). As a result, Jump Street sometimes threatens to dissolve into a string of related sketches, particularly as the level of violence sky rockets towards the end. But between the breakneck pace, shrewd digs at the source material, incredibly stupid chases and a running gag about explosions (not to mention the most horribly funny dick joke ever), there's just about enough sticky back plastic and nostalgic 80s buddy movie cheese to hold the whole thing together.
Tatum and Hill also deserve a goodly slice of the credit for this as the film focuses on the shifting sands of the unlikely couple's faltering bromance. While Hill is busy being charming and bumbly, Tatum displays a sly comic talent, happy to play the straight guy and send up his dumb jock good looks. One unfortunate consequence of this is that virtually every other character in the movie is (at best) a little one dimensional, but Hill and Tatum are such an unexpectedly good combination that by the time Johnny Depp's cameo crops up, you should be having such a good time, you'll have forgotten there was even supposed to be one.
Is it a startling brilliant piece of cinema? No. Would it have been improved if Channing Tatum had taken his shirt off at some point? Probably. But is it a stupid, funny and enjoyably juvenile way to fritter a couple of hours on a Friday night? Hells yeah.