Review: 21 Jump Street
Will Murphy checks out the latest in undercover high-school policing.
‘Jonah Hill’s lost a lot of weight, hasn’t he?’ whispered the cushty little couple next to me, when I first saw the trailer for this film.
I’ve really been looking forward to seeing it ever since, primarily so I can gawp at how strange the streamlined version of the California funnyman looks. 21 Jump Street offers a little bit more than that, though.
Anyone who is familiar with the 1980s TV series which launched Johnny Depp into teen stardom will know the premise of this. I’ll explain it anyway for those who aren’t (I’m not, save for having watched a couple of clips on the ‘net).
A mismatch of extreme proportions, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as two former high school enemies, Schmidt and Jenko, who reunite in police academy and form a symbiotic relationship, just barely scraping through their final exams.
After their first arrest goes bizarrely awry, they are chosen to go undercover in a high school, due to their being ‘some Justin Beaver, Miley Cyrus lookin’ motherfuckers’ in order to uncover a drugs ring. Cue an hour and a half of crazy shenanigans.
I thought it would be the sort of thing that’s great for a laugh, but pretty forgettable once the lights go up. I was bang wrong. Shot and directed in a strangely psychedelic manner, due to its druggy content, the tone of the film is refreshingly different to most high school comedies.
Toilet humour and tits aren’t the dominant entity either. There’s a really sombre and sympathetic side to this story, exploring unlikely friendships, as well as the fickleness and impressionability of the young minds of the Noughties.
Schmidt, ever unpopular during his own school tenure, is a hit with the cool kids, whilst Jenko, a former potential prom king, finds solace in the science lab with the Japanese-card-game-playing nerds.
The two lead actors go together unexpectedly well, like strawberries and black pepper: it shouldn’t work, but it does. There are also raucous performances from Ice Cube and that ‘POW!’ guy from Step Brothers, who’s always worth a few laughs.
The brand of humour is nicely configured, too. Although there’s a fair share of light hearted teen gags, there’s the odd moment that’s pretty dark, disturbing and decidedly graphic: bullets through the neck, legs being run over, you get the gist.
The blend of cop thriller and teen comedy is ultimately what gives this film an edge (along with several extremely well engineered plot twists), because it means that it never has to take itself too seriously, but simultaneously, provides genuine excitement. For me, it’s the film of the year so far.