Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street (2012) – Blu-ray review
A reboot that, for once, dares to really think about what a reboot involves, finding its laughs by satirising high school’s not-even-a-generational shift.
21 Jump Street
(Phil Lord and Chris Miller, US, 2012)
So a concept that was stretched over 100 episodes of teenage telly in the late 1980s – undercover cops playing at being teenagers – finds its natural expression in a feature-length buddy comedy. It’s a set-up ripe with opportunity, notably big kids being thrown back into the maelstrom of high school with a licence to wreak havoc, but a clever script finds greater nuance. Michael Bacall co-wrote the film of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and brings that film’s sense of tribalism to show just how rapid the changing pace of trendiness is when you’re a teenager.
So once-maligned geeks are now the cool kids and the jock is despised for his Neanderthal attitudes in the eco-friendly, touchy-feely 2012. A first act that feels little more than The Other Guys go to school, especially in a bicycle chase that’s straining too hard to be silly, erupts into life the second the cops get their cover stories wrong and have to swap places. It’s a simple, brilliant movie, giving each character a distinct character arc (can Jonah Hill’s Schmidt be cool? Can Channing Tatum’s Jenko be clever?) even as it upsets the equilibrium.
It’s not long before this layering of identities sees the duo hallucinating ice cream cone heads and caterpillar eyebrows, causing carnage at a house party (a sequence that does in ten minutes what the Bacall-scripted Project X couldn’t achieve in a whole film) and bickering over who gets to drive in a dual-control driving lesson car.
Throughout, the film flirts with exposing the cliché that “dusting off any old crap” means formulaic. Yes, it all gets a action comedy 1.01 come the prom-set finale, but set pieces like a tag-team car chase displau a commendable willingness to throw the kind of curveballs that Phil Lord and Chris Miller showed in Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs.
And it allows two actors to show their range. Fresh off Moneyball, here’s a reminder that Jonah Hill can do potty-mouthed comedy better than nearly anybody around – but the sweetness of his central romance with schoolgirl Brie confirms he’s as much character actor as comic. The real revelation is Channing Tatum, groomed as romantic lead and action man but relishing the opportunity to dork up with lightsaber mimes and chemistry-themed jumpers. Crucially, the two stars have a real rapport, comfortable enough to share the laughs.