I’d heard a lot of very good things about 21 Jump Street. But please forgive me my naïvety, I was having a bit of a dim weekend, because for some reason I thought 21 Jump Street was a drama (confused slightly with End of Watch) (again don’t ask) and I thought that this was the first film Jonah Hill got Oscar nominated for (it wasn’t, it was Moneyball) (please don’t ask). To this day, I’m still not entirely sure how I got to this Dory level of confusion, primarily because I was aware that Channing Tatum was in it. No disrespect to Tatum, but he doesn’t particularly strike me as the Oscar nominated drama type. Anyway, once I realised what 21 Jump Street was, I was ready to get stuck in, and I am pretty darn happy I did.
Based on the tv show of the 1980s of the same name, we have a fairly reliable and predictable plot, two polar opposites, Channing Tatum as Greg, the buff, popular sports jock and Jonah Hill as Morton, the not-so-fit, shy awkward nerdy kid. Whilst they are back and forward bullying one another, they are also both failing at school. When graduation rolls around, they both find themselves with less than perfect grades, so they enrol with the police. Present day, post-graduation from police academy, they are the best of friends and looking to work their way up through the police force. Unfortunately, they don’t quite meet the expectations of the force, and after a botched drug bust in the park, they are put in 21 Jump Street, an undercover police unit primarily focusing on schools to crack down on drug abuse.
The first thing to focus on, is the fact that 21 Jump Street is absolutely hysterical. It’s so laugh out loud funny, I was crying. But, what makes it so much more palatable, is that it doesn’t descend into crude, lewd, adolescent boy humour, involving boobs, masturbation, penises etc. It’s funny because it’s slapstick, good old-fashioned humour, with its tongue firmly in cheek when examining the modern cliques in highschool. Sure it is a bit sweary, a bit childish, but actually executes the humorous elements of the film so well. This type of humour is hard to come by in modern comedy. Too many script writers rely on over the top dirty jokes to get their laughs, it’s much harder to write something that isn’t overtly hilarious and rely on the actors to deliver pitch perfect performances. In particular the scenes where Greg and Morton are high on HFS (Holy Fucking Shit) are so funny and wonderfully showcase Tatum as a comedy actor, something not particularly associated with his films so far.
The story is fairly predictable, (following the same trajectory as most romantic comedies, two close people, experience difficulty, reunite by the final scene). But I don’t think this takes away from the film, although perhaps this element of the film could have been taken in a different direction, just to make it slightly different, less formulaic. Perhaps the second one will be a little more adventurous. This brings us to the ending, which is less than formulaic. It’s a bit nuts, whilst still maintaining the main thread of the story, but as with most comedy films, it’s a bit haywire and a bit off-the-wall, with some cameos from two of the stars of the original 21 Jump Street TV series. Overall the film succeeds on so many levels, that the lacklustre ending doesn’t really affect the viewing experience.
21 Jump Street is certainly one of the better comedy films to come out in recent years, with boundary crossing references, from the YouTube generation of hipsters with nods to 1980s-1990s highschool life and ‘in-joke’ references, importantly without descending to the common denominator of the American Pie formula of humour, which is such a tired and inexplicably popular trope of comedy, it’s a shame more comedy films aren’t like 21 Jump Street. It’s also introduced me to Channing Tatum, who I probably wrongly wrote off as a bit of teen eye-candy fluff, he’s actually exceptionally funny and fits into comedy roles so well. And surprisingly a very good actor. Both Tatum and Hill bring much-needed soul and depth to the Hollywood comedy scene. It almost feels as if the film wasn’t expected to do so well, almost like it made on a whim, rather than an attempt to make as much money as possible. This evidently adds to the film’s overall success. It’s not blatant and rushed, it’s a well thought out and superbly written film, which in a sea of mediocrity and obscenity, is a fresh and welcome presence.
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