Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

21 Jump Street

We all have our own assumptions about what movies are going to be good based on the concept, the trailer, or whatever. An evolved defense mechanism designed to protect us from choosing the wrong entertainment on a Saturday night. A shield in case some marketing executive thinks that our childhood memories of Stretch Armstrong ads playing over Saturday morning cartoons means we'll show up on opening night for the full screen treatment. Most of us know better. Which is a very long-winded way of saying I didn't think I needed to see a movie version of 21 Jump Street. Turns out our instincts do occasionally fail.

The 21 Jump Street feature film is clever, brings the funny, and even with an imperfect end — never made me regret sitting in the theater. Hopefully it won't do anything to insult the original fans. Truth be told, I never watched the original. Perhaps too consumed with Brenda's issues on 90210 to tune in. But for them there's a good chance they'll find some of the in-jokes funnier and maybe even get thrown a cameo or two.

The concept of the 21 Jump Street is as simple as it is ridiculous. With high school drug use and crime on the rise, the police are forced to look at creative ways to attack the problem. Failing that, they decide to drag out an old program to avoid having to come up with anything new. Or as it's explained to rookie officers Jeno (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) by their commanding officer, "All they do is recycle shit from the past and hope nobody notices." That could be just a throwaway line of writers hanging their heads in shame. Instead, it's a positive signal of the the comedic subversion that 21 Jump Street is gunning for. More a one-note joke than some other TV adaptations, the cop buddy-comedy manages to deliver solid entertainment for much of the ride. As surprising as that may be. Perhaps equally surprising is that a film set around high school experiences and second chances comes across mainly as sweet/funny as opposed to mean.

Jeno and Schmidt have known each other from high school where Jeno was one of the cool jocks and Schmidt…well he was not. Thrown together at the police academy, they become friends with the overlapping strengths in brawn vs. brain allowing them to stumble through the program. Jeno still has trouble with process issues (such as the Miranda rights) and Schmidt with physically stopping fleeing suspects. After a disastrous first arrest, the pair is given a final chance with the high school undercover unit due to their young'ish looks. A quick and humorous briefing by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) and then off to high school for them. Their mission: find the new synthetic drug that's killed at least one youth, which of course is being dealt by the popular crowd.

After settling in with Schmidt's parents and grabbing what they believe to be a cool car, the pair heads to school. Up until this point the film is funny, if straightforward. Entering the high-school though, the script plays aggressively with generational shifts in what's cool now vs. an earlier era (aka any time period ever set in a high school movie ever). If you believe the film driving a gas guzzler, not caring about the environment, being a jock, slacking off, and using homophobic slurs are all definitely out. Which comes as a devastating blow to Jeno as he tries to get in with the cool kids. On the other hand, Schmidt's natural instincts allow him to quickly infiltrate the dealers. As an action comedy the audience is eventually treated to some chase and action sequences, though it's far from a huge part of the film. When engaged, the antics are well done, with a particularly amusing recurring bit about, "Gee — I thought that would explode for sure…"

The chemistry between Hill and Tatum is solid, and their emotional bond feels real with neither looking like they're trying too hard (in the positive sense of the term). Most viewers will recognize a slew of other actors in the mix stealing scenes throughout. Easy examples include the above mentioned Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, and Jake Johnson. Johnson has a small but memorable turn as the school's principal who can't quite believe what the pair has gotten themselves into on their first day.

21 Jump Street is the rare film where I think it's perfectly fine to watch the trailer. Most of the jokes in it are either quickly dispensed within the first 10 minutes or clearly came from alternate edits that never made the film. As such, it provides a solid flavor without ruining the ability to enjoy the film. So check it out if you like, but definitely give serious consideration to seeing 21 Jump Street in the theater this week.