Thursday, February 23, 2012

21 Jump Street Is Not Without Its Charms (But It’s Still A Lousy Movie)!

The Good: Moments of humor, Moments of performance
The Bad: Plot is ridiculous, Much of the humor could be stuck in a completely different movie, Character elements are abandoned as opposed to developed.
The Basics: When Jenko and Schmidt show no real aptitude for police work, they are transferred to an undercover unit and sent back to high school in a largely unfunny film.

Here at the outset, it is wise for me to state directly that I have never seen a single episode of the late-1980s television series 21 Jump Street. As a result, I have no basis for reference in comparing the new film to the old television series and so this review will contain none of that. That said, I was pretty sure 21 Jump Street was a gritty drama and the new film 21 Jump Street was a pretty inane comedy, which made me disappointed that I left work early and drove two states away for the screening.

21 Jump Street was not worth it. At the same time, given how many previews I saw before other movies in theaters recently for 21 Jump Street, the film exceeded my expectations. In other words, it was a pretty bad movie, but it was nowhere near as bad as I initially suspected it would be. Those who like buddy cop comedies, like The Other Guys (reviewed here!) are actually fairly likely to enjoy this rendition of 21 Jump Street. As one who expects a little more from movies, 21 Jump Street had one or two laughs that were not in the trailers, but little else that was worthwhile to keep my interest. And (not to pile on) the pacing in the movie was off, so the film felt long despite not exceeding the minimum ninety minute standard by very much at all.

In high school, Schmidt was a geek, picked on by the jocks and Jenko was one of the jocks who abused him. Years later, they meet up in the police academy where Schmidt is struggling with the physical requirements and Jenko is washing out on the academics. The two form an unlikely partnership and when they graduate, they are assigned as partners to the same beat. Unfortunately, their first attempt at an arrest is such an unmitigated disaster when they try to take down a drug-using bike gang. Following their failure to make a single successful arrest, they are “promoted” to a clandestine operation on Jump Street. When they report to Captain Dickson there, they are given their assignment.

Assigned to go undercover at the high school, Schmidt and Jenko are tasked with finding the supplier of what appears to be a new synthetic drug (H.F.S.) infiltrating the school district. When “Doug” and “Brad” mix up their identities because Jenko is just that dumb that he can’t remember his alter-ego’s name initially, their situation gets complicated. Suddenly, Schmidt has to pretend to be both a track star and a drama enthusiast while Jenko struggles to fit in in AP Chemistry. So, while teachers gat randy over Jenko and become suspicious over Schmidt, the pair works to fit in and find the source of the new drug. With the main dealer being a douchebag named Eric, the pair struggles to keep it together long enough to find the supplier. In the process, they create mayhem and follow a pretty obvious path that is anything but worthy of law enforcement.

It is hard to get upset about the way law enforcement officers are treated in 21 Jump Street; it is a comedy and writers Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill poke fun at pretty much everyone in the movie. The young people are sheep, the teachers are lecherous horndogs and the police officers are pretty moronic; everyone gets it in 21 Jump Street. Despite how the movie is equal opportunity in its jokes, 21 Jump Street is not terribly good. The funniest moments involving the police all involve self-referential aspects that break the fourth wall of 21 Jump Street. So, for example, when Captain Dickson (played by Ice Cube) decries his own character as an angry black stereotype, it is amusing much the way Nick Offerman’s initial deployment of the guys to 37 Jump Street works. But even these self-referential gags are hardly flawless. Offerman’s reference to recycled ideas from the past is played with the same tongue-in-cheek irony that Kevin Smith used in decrying Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (reviewed here!!) within the film itself.

On the plot front, 21 Jump Street is very predictable. In fact, this is a largely formulaic film and unfortunately, much of the humor is also telegraphed well in advance. Watching 21 Jump Street, I got the feeling that Bacall (and Hill, though he is only credited with story, not screenplay) had jokes he wanted to use in other projects that he just stuck into 21 Jump Street. As a result, there are sequences that feel forced or out of place for this particular movie. Those moments distract from the story and often involve humor that is more slapstick in nature and that helps bring the overall feel of 21 Jump Street into a territory that is more boring than actually bad. Parts of 21 Jump Street feel uncomfortably long, despite it being a very average film in terms of duration. Moreover, so much of the humor is thinly disguised “rule of three” humor. While the exploding chickens gag got a lot of laughs in the screening I attended, it seemed far too obvious to me after the two prior, defused, gags.

The character front is where 21 Jump Street almost had me. There is an initially charming aspect to Schmidt that is fun to watch. He is brainy and picked on and he is interesting as he does the whole poseur white rapper thing. Unfortunately, from pretty much the moment Schmidt and Jenko hit the high school, his intelligence is diminished. Rather than trying to take alternative tactics to reaching their undercover goal, Schmidt quickly becomes overcome with the idea of being a popular kid himself. While the commentary that he would have been a cool kid had he only been born ten years later is truly worthy of reflection, it is quickly buried in more jokes and cheap gags. Conversely, Jenko shows no real substantive growth after he understands that Schmidt has something useful to him and it is better to treat him better than fail out of the Academy.

As for the acting, Jonah Hill gives viewers nothing we haven’t seen before from him in other comedies. He is solid and too often the humor is supposed to be in him just bugging his eyes out and looking goofy. Channing Tatum is surprisingly good as Jenko, though. He plays the straightman well, but in 21 Jump Street he actually smiles and loosens his body language enough to seem human. As Jenko, Tatum is unlike the tight, disciplined characters he usually plays and there are moments he truly nails the whole “dumb jock” thing.

I wanted to write that Dave Franco had something like a standout performance, but the truth is that even before doing the research, it was clear he was related to James Franco. Dave slouches through the role of Eric doing what he can to get by with a smirk too often to truly be considered charismatic. Unfortunately for Dave, James beat him to the niche; to prove himself as an actor he will have to . . . well, act. And act like someone other than James Franco.

Unfortunately, what charm there is in 21 Jump Street is almost completely negated by the supporting performances (Rob Riggle does his usual schtick in a way that makes me truly loathe it when he pops up) and the predictable elements. 21 Jump Street might not be the worst film ever, but it is definitely not one to get excited about paying for. When it hits DVD, by all means, get it out free from your library to have a good popcorn movie, but if you’re looking for genuine entertainment, you’ll have to go much farther than 21 Jump Street.

For other works with Jonah Hill please visit my reviews of:
How To Train Your Dragon
The Invention Of Lying
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The 40 Year Old Virgin


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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