Laughing in the ‘Street’
I see a lot of different movies, but a lot of the same
When Columbia Pictures started pimping its take on the classic 1980s cop show, “21 Jump Street,” I was dubious.
By about the 10th time I’d seen the trailer, I must admit, it had started to grow on me (unlike that incessantly played preview for “The Darkest Hour,” a film that fortunately never made it to Boone, but left me seeking some form of cinematic catharsis).
But with “21 Jump Street,” you could tell the filmmakers – directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) and writers Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and Jonah Hill (in his first feature writing credit) – had made something different than all the rehashes and reboots that currently plague the Cineplex.
Their take on “21 Jump Street” would be self-aware, a meta-comedy that acknowledges its trappings and gleefully runs with it. It’s truly funny, thanks to a surprising chemistry between leads Jonah Hill (“Superbad”) and Channing Tatum (“The Vow”), the latter of whom proves he can be downright hilarious when not starring in cookie-cut rom-coms or, say, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”
Hill’s also to praise as a writer. He and Bacall have crafted a screenplay that deftly juggles humor, action and even some sentimentality.
Sentimentality’s nowhere to be found in high school, though, where the film’s two protagonists first meet as seniors.
Schmidt (Hill) is the bookish type who, nevertheless, tries to emulate Eminem and (most likely as a result) can’t find a date to prom. Jenko (Tatum) is the cool, not-so-clever jock, who heckles Schmidt with taunts like “not-so-Slim Shady.”
Five years later, they find themselves out of college and applying for the police academy. Jenko’s naturally skilled at the physical aspect, not so much with the books, while it’s the opposite for Schmidt.
They decide to pal up and help each other complete training, becoming chums in the process. After graduation, they barely – and hilariously – make their first drug bust, but Jenko’s ignorance of the Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain an attorney”) gets the case – and them – thrown out.
They’re to be reassigned to, as their captain explains, a program revived from the 1980s, since the higher-ups have no original ideas and are instead content with rehashing and rebooting programs from the past (get it?).
This takes them to 21 Jump Street, a rundown police house hidden in a moreso rundown Korean church (called “The Aroma of Christ”), where youngish looking officers are assigned undercover cases to infiltrate high school crime.
Ice Cube (“Friday”) plays their captain, Dixon, who encourages his officers to embrace their stereotypes – his, for instance, being the angry black captain.
Therefore, Jenko must embrace his dumb jockiness and Schmidt his nerdiness, making the latter more than fearful of repeating the waking nightmare that was high school.
But a lot has changed since the two graduated. “Cool” is no longer Jenko’s norm, with the popular crowd less interested in picking on nerds than driving hybrid cars and recycling. Schmidt, however, manages to fit right in.
Furthermore, when the two get their identities crossed, Schmidt takes on Jenko’s tailor-made easy course load, while Jenko takes on Schmidt’s academically stimulating schedule, including what he calls “Ap Chemistry.”
In the midst of all this, a new synthetic drug is circulating the halls, landing many in psychedelic euphoria and one kid in the morgue.
Now, Schmidt and Jenko must get in with the cool crowd – which, to Jenko’s chagrin, is much easier for Schmidt this go-around – to discover the dealers and the source.
Hill and Tatum are superb, playing well off each other as a most unlikely comic duo, while Cube nearly steals the show with his character’s stereotypically furious (but cleverly written) dialogue.
This “21 Jump Street” follows the television series only in name and concept (along with a few honestly surprising cameos), but it’s a far cry from the original series.
That’s not a bad thing. Rather than emulate the show, the filmmakers take the “Starsky and Hutch” approach, making a comedy out of an otherwise straight-laced crime drama.
While 2004’s “Starsky and Hutch” had fun playing with the source material, “21 Jump Street” makes it its own, managing to make something fresh and genuinely funny out of a rehashed concept.
It seems almost as if Hill and company pulled some wool over the executives’ eyes, promising them another safe rehash/reboot of a familiar title that audiences will see based on name recognition alone. Instead, they got a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Unlike most reboots, however, this wolf doesn’t bite.
“21 Jump Street,” rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 13-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.