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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

21 Jump Street - Review (2012)

Every once in a while I am wrong.  I know, you don't believe me.  But, it's true.  From day one I had this film pegged as another laughless, lazily written waste of time.   Transferring TV shows to the big screen is nothing new, it has been going on for years - unfortunately, typically with the weakest of results.  From day one this did not look to be an exception to the rule - it is based on a little watched TV show (who the hell was asking for this,) and seemed to be wildly miscast (Jonah Hill, as in the lead roll, the job formerly held by Johnny Depp on the TV show... what an obvious choice)  - an obvious cash grab.

Like I said, I was wrong.  Not only was this film satisfactory for a night's entertainment, I actually quite enjoyed it.

The story is of two high school enemies that are forced to work together to make their way through the police academy - one is smart, but physically uncoordinated (Jonah Hill) - the other a natural athlete just not very book smart (Channing Tatum.)  After teaming up to graduate from the academy, they get their first major assignment - posing as high schoolers to investigate a drug ring.  One thing they quickly realize is that high school has changed since they had been students - the balance of power has shifted, the outcast is now king.

The film could have relied on the easy laughs, the predictable jokes that you can guess the punchline to halfway through the setup (i.e. just about every joke in an Adam Sandler film) - to my surprise it doesn't.  This is exactly why it works, the comedy is not stupid and insulting to the audience.

Comedy is completely subjective -what makes me laugh you may not find funny at all - and the jokes throughout this film were pitch perfect for my taste.  For me humor only works when it contradicts what you are anticipating.  If you telegraph your joke it is almost a certainty that I will not find it funny.  What works so well here is the jokes are peppered into dialogue that is actually part of the story.. The character is saying something that is moving along the story and rather than a thinly veiled standup routine pretending to be dialogue.  No one tries too hard sell their joke - the humor creeps up on you and EARNS some real laughs.  This allows characters stay in character, delivering lines as if they are just talking and saying things that just happen to be funny when they deliver it.  There are no over the top accents or stereotypical characters that telegraph their jokes.  Often the delivery is so deadpan that someone not familiar with the cliches of the buddy/undercover cop films may not even realize a joke was told. 

That's not to say there are plenty of examples of over the top jokes peppered throughout - there are raunchy, goofy, sophomoric, gross jokes - the correct ratio of intelligent to stupid.  The film embraces its stupidity though, acknowledging and laughing with a wink at the preposterous things would usual be ignored in hopes the audience would not notice...  we notice.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have great chemistry, both doing their share of the work to earn a good number of laughs.  That is expected from Jonah Hill, he has proven to have great comic timing and delivery - Tatum was a bit of a surprise.  As Hill does what he needs to do to earn the laugh, Tatum keeps up with him - never shying down or resorting to the straight man role (this is most evident during a hilarious drug tripping sequence.)

The film has much more to offer than I had anticipated - of course there's the humor, but there is also an actual plot and characters, not just joke delivery systems.  The take on high school is quite effective, capturing the lost feeling many of us felt as we tried to fit in, the self discovery and the joy of being accepted.  I had a good time watching this film - a good sign.  8 out of 10

For more reviews, check out the Review Archive.  Soon to be the home to about 300 original film reviews (as soon as I can transfer them one at a time.)

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