|Film Review: 21 Jump Street|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Wednesday, 14 March 2012 08:05|
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
"They're revamping a program from the 80s because they've got no creativity and they're really fucking lazy." Those are the words of an angry commissioner when he assigns rookie cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) to 21 Jump Street, the police force's undercover unit for infiltrating high schools. It's exactly that self-aware sense of humour that makes Phil Lord and Chris Miller's reboot of the Johnny Depp TV series so enjoyable. A teen-comedy-action-movie-cop-thriller-remake, 21 Jump Street is a surprisingly sharp film that mixes several genres together - and then subverts them all.
The opening is littered with obvious jokes, as the inept officers patrol round town on bicycles and can’t remember how to arrest people properly (“You have the right to be an attorney?”). But then our duo relocate to high school and the smarts kick in – you won’t stop laughing from here until the end.
Michael Bacall’s witty script starts by swapping the roles around, leaving Schmidt pretending to be a sporty jock and handsome lug Jenko stuck in science lessons with turned-on teacher Ellie Kemper. Not content with that, Bacall also flips the school’s social hierarchy on its head: the cool kids don’t punch dorks anymore or “one-strap” their backpacks. Now they wear their bags with two straps and worry about the state of the environment. They also do drugs.
As the cops track down the young dealers, events fall into a deceptively conventional teen movie format. There are parties and proms, but there are also class productions of Peter Pan and low-tech animated drug sequences that turn people into talking food. Pointing a hair dryer at an ice cream and hitting the "melt" button, it’s a treat to see Lord and Miller carry over their absurd brand of humour from 2009’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
The animation helmers also prove a dab hand at live action with some amusing set pieces. Car chases are undermined by constantly unexploding vehicles and a violent shootout is interrupted by entertaining cameos. Amid the well-paced chaos, there’s a lot of blood, a ton of swearing and a bit where a bloke’s penis gets shot, but perhaps the most striking thing about 21 Jump Street is just how harmless it all is. The crude jokes and toilet humour are balanced out by the leads: Hill is hilarious and instantly likeable, Ice Cube’s irate Captain splits sides with stereotypical rants about black people giving stereotypical rants, while Tatum’s deadpan talent produces the best role of his career.
In an anarchic remake that refuses to be anything like its source material, Tatum’s unexpected comic talent might actually be the biggest subversion of them all. Who knew the G.I. Joe star had it in him?
This review was originally published over at Cine-Vue.