Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jump Around

"It's all about recycling shit from the past and expecting everyone not to notice."

No, that's not a copy/paste effort from one of my previous posts.
It's true, I've never been completely behind the idea that remakes or the recycling of ideas in Hollywood are a good idea. It's one thing when they take an idea that is still kicking around the entertainment industry (like Transformers, for example) in this day and age, but far too often the creative minds in Los Angeles are eager to dredge up the once-hit television wonders of yesteryear, itching to capitalize on our collective nostalgia for a big payday. Sadly, we as audiences perpetuate this problem when we allow our memories of old TV shows like Josie and the Pussycats, and Scooby Doo to dictate what we see in the theaters. Even if such films are ultimately unsuccessful, usually they earn just enough money at the box office to justify their expense. What are we telling this industry when more of us spent money to see Bewitched than did to see A Better Life?

What are they less believable as: teenagers or cops?
Of course, it's wrong to condemn an entire genre based on whatever inherent source material might have been used. There have actually been some good remakes on both film and television in the past decade, from the recent Star Trek reboot to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy to the excellent Battlestar Galactica TV show from a few years back. Now you can add 21 Jump Street to that list. Originally airing in 1987, the television show on which this film is based was a serious drama focusing on young-looking cops going undercover at schools to investigate cases involving drugs, abuse, and other crimes. Running for four years, it provided a launching pad for star Johnny Depp, who would of course go on to star in Edward Scissorhands and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, among other popular films. The remake of this show is naturally an action comedy starring a cliched pairing of Hollywood heartthrob Channing Tatum and pudgy Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill. Looks like it would be all downhill from here, right?

Our heroes report to the Captain...
Well, not so fast. Sure, the story is a familiar one; inept police officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) find themselves assigned to a restructured police operation on 21 Jump Street, an undercover unit that sends young-looking officers into schools to conduct their investigations. Tasked with infiltrating a drug ring at a local high school, the pair encounter difficulties when they realize that social circles do not revolve the same way they did when Schmidt and Jenko were in school. Jenko, a former jock and popular dude, finds himself an outcast, while Schmidt, who had gone through high school an unpopular geek, finds himself atop the school's "cool" list. The pair must overcome their weaknesses and work together to break open this illicit drug ring. If they play their cards right, the final outcome might be something they both missed in their first high school go-around: Senior Prom.

Somebody show Hill how to hold a gun!
Yes, it's obvious from my description and the film's trailer that a lot of stereotypes concerning police and high school are crammed in here, laying the groundwork for a "been there, done that" experience if placed the wrong hands. However, in the care of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (whose previous effort was the 3D animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), 21 Jump Street is gleefully self-aware of its limitations, embracing them as the film's main basis for its story. For the most part, this method surprisingly works, successful not only in paying homage to the original TV show but also establishing this new film as great entertainment in its own right. The statement I quoted to begin this review is from the film itself, spoken by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) in reference to the rebooting of the Jump Street program itself. Naturally, it's also a sly wink and nod to the audience about many of their expectations concerning remakes in general. This level of honesty is refreshing, and immediately places 21 Jump Street on a level appreciable to any audience member simply looking to have a good time.

He's gonna put his chrome to your dome... what does THAT mean?
Of course, all that audience appreciation doesn't mean a damned thing if you're not the least bit entertaining. Fortunately, what we have here is one of the funniest films in recent memory, with the humor ranging from hilariously physical to ingeniously clever. Even after he built his career on comedies such as Superbad and Get Him to the Greek, it's odd to admit that Jonah Hill has excellent comedic timing, turning any scene on its ear with a well-positioned quip. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum uses his good looks as a perfect setup for the excellently-delivered dumb jock jokes. Together they might seem like a cheaply-manufactured buddy cop comedy, but the script and the actors follow a lesson imparted by Captain Dickson: "Embrace your stereotypes." What at first appears to be an obvious trotting out of police procedural and buddy film formulas instead makes fun of those same cliches, to great effect. Of special note are scenes in which the heroes are under the effects of the drug they're supposed to be policing and an amazingly clever freeway car chase, both sequences as hilarious as they are unpredictable. And when the supporting cast features such talents as Rob Riggle as a school gym teacher and Brie Larson as a popular teen, it only adds to the quality of the script and humor.

Why yes, he DOES have a shot at a girl like her.
When I first saw the trailer for 21 Jump Street, I was sure that like many before it the film would be an awful jumble of stereotypes, cliches and bad humor on the way to being among the year's worst. The fifth time I saw the trailer, I found myself chuckling at the humor and thinking perhaps it wouldn't be too bad. After seeing it about ten times and in the face of positive reviews, I halfway considered this spending money for me and Todd to see it in the theater would not be a waste of a weekend. I certainly did not expect to laugh nonstop throughout, nor did I figure that 21 Jump Street would turn into my #1 film for 2012. It's still early, and no doubt some film will come along to knock this one off its precarious perch. But this was by far the best, most complete experience I've had at the movie theater this year. Whether or not you were a fan of the original television series, there's more here than mere homage. This is just pure entertainment, plain and simple.


THE Real Estate Analyst!!! said...

Bravo Mr Anderson

julesrules3114 said...

I completely agree with your review.
I had no interest in the actual show, during the early 90's, but i loved this film.
Both actors, as physically opposite as they were/are, had great chemistry.
Yes, i actually believed they did give a shit about one another, despite the expected friction.
Depp's cameo was also brilliant!
Just a laugh-out loud funny movie going experience, though somewhat embarassing if you are seeing it alone (and laughing out loud).