The Critics: 21 Jump Street

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Dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller

4 out of 5

Last week central California cop Alex Selanis arrested 12 student drug dealers while going undercover in a high school, but it is unlikely that his policing antics included an acid fuelled relay race, exploding poultry or Korean Jesus. In Jonah Hill’s parallel universe, however, this is how things get done. 21 Jump Street, Hill’s most unpredictable and clever comedy to date, skilfully rejuvenates the tired genres of both police buddy movie and high school comedy. Ever since Bill Hader said “nice mullet, asshole” in Superbad there has been a gaping movie vacuum waiting to be filled with more renegade stoner cops saving the day. 21 Jump Street may just be that movie.

We follow the casebook of Jenko and Schmidt, former high school bully and dweeb who run in at officer training and join forces to become a somewhat average crime fighting team. The two soon find that their combined powers of idiocy and low self-esteem make them the perfect foil for undercover work in a nearby high school. The detectives struggle with drug rackets, prom and hipster environmentalists, before coming to terms with their own high school demons.

Jonah Hill notably lost just under 20 kilos for the heightened physicality of his role as Schmidt, but if there were any fears that Hill’s comic timing was shed along with his folds they are soon assuaged. Jump Street sees Hill shift away from the Judd Apatow school of comedy, as he offers fewer improvised jokes but demonstrates a growing adeptness for comic timing that has evolved through films like Get Him To The Greek. He continues to perfect his own balance of underlying coolness suppressed by poor articulation, a sensitive yin yang of penis jokes and googly eyes.

The script is playful yet ruthless. The new post-modern movie high school has ditched such traditional tropes as virginal teens or slutty exchange students. Equally, elements such as the motivation for the two leads becoming cops is absent but not missed. The focus is instead on self-reflexive humour. Pretty much everything Nick Offerman’s police chief says is a direct criticism of the very film he’s starring in, and a running joke on the nature of police movie explosions is brilliant, as is the brief scene invasion by the original series’ cast. The comedy is great for always popping up just outside of the viewer’s expectations, Channing Tatum being a great example.

This is, in fact, a film for people who hate Channing Tatum. Jenko’s attitude is everything that was wrong with the viewer’s high school life and his school resurrection and subsequent relegation to nerd status is merely appeasement for a baying audience. It all feels like deserved payback for the free passes Tatum’s looks have given him in Hollywood. Yet, unexpectedly, Tatum’s comic timing is world class; his comedic brain unleashed from heretofore shackles of douchebaggery. In light of the egotistical disaster that is Daily Mail writer Samantha Brick it’s nice to see someone willing to approach their own image-dependent career with a sense of self-mockery.

However, more than the Cop or High school sub-genres, 21 Jump Street is about not giving a fuck in the wider scheme of things. Most scenes are a middle finger to any conventions that dare to exist; conventions such as believability and reason. The end credits play out like stock footage from a box in MGM’s basement labelled ‘Bad Ass’, it’s like Liam Neeson’s stream of consciousness. Nevertheless, 21 Jump Street gets away with it because it knows it’s good. You’ll laugh; if you don’t, this film will pistol whip your balls.

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