Saturday, March 31, 2012
Taking a page from Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlbeg from 2010's "The Other Guys," here's another buddy cop duo who absolutely nail it, but now it's Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill taking bromance to a whole new level. The term bromance comes from a platonic love from one guy to another, which has been explored countless times before. The onscreen pairing of Tatum and Hill, however, feels like something brand new in being so comically rewarding. In their bumble-headed playfulness, they effortlessly show how guy relationships can be both complex and stupid -- much like "21 Jump Street" itself.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) went to high school together in 2005, and their dynamic is clear straight away. Schmidt was the ultra nerd who got shot down by girls when asking them to prom while Jenko was the handsome and popular, yet academically challenged, jock. Seven years later they're good friends after attending a police academy together, and as immature-looking rookie cops, they get assigned to a special division where they must infiltrate a high school while undercover. They're both forced to relive their high school experiences; Jenko thinks he has the bad boy popularity thing down while Schmidt dreads walking the halls again. But a switch-up in their class schedules puts Schmidt in classes more suited for an idiot jock while Jenko gets put in advanced chemistry.
It's not only their stereotype swap that's throwing them off. High school has changed since their time. The cool kids aren't bullies but rather environmentally savvy hipsters led by Eric, the head of a drug ring played with weird, surfer bro charisma by Dave Franco (the destined-for-stardom younger brother of James Franco). Hilariously placing the blame of a changed high school lifestyle on "Glee," Jenko no longer knows how to keep it cool and fit in. Playing up a perfect dumb face, Channing Tatum proves his comic chops outside of his usual Nicholas Sparks typecasting, especially in his scenes where he realizes he may not be as dumb as he always believed. The tables have turned, and Schmidt finds his way into the cool crowd to bust the drug ring.
What makes "21 Jump Street" more than a reimagining of some TV show from the 80s and a hapless remake is the way the comedy knows that it is exactly just that -- and then plays with the formula. While you might think you've seen this setup before (because you have), the movie knowingly makes sure to explode and rearrange our expectations into something that consistently manages to surprise and shock. Thanks largely to creative direction from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs") and an irreverent script from Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall ("Project X") -- featuring more iterations of the word "dick" than you could imagine -- the movie is absurd for the sake of absurdity à la "Anchorman" with a joyous, ridiculous spirit.
The supporting cast is along for the goofy ride, too, including Ice Cube who is uproariously vulgar as the hardened police captain who does Samuel L. Jackson proud. And for how off-the-wall the whole ordeal is, there are hints of truth sneakily hidden in there giving us a rather candid and honest look at high school life considering the circumstances. Best of all, "21 Jump Street" is chock-full of gut-busting funny scenes to remember. Take for example a car chase in a student driver car with Tatum dressed in a hoodie covered in atomic bonds with Hill sporting a Peter Pan costume or, another instance where the duo, to prove they're not narcs, pop a mind-altering drug that literally shreds their minds (and ours) to pieces.