21 Jump Street (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">21 Jump Street</strong> (2012)

(On-demand video, July 2012) I really did not expect this movie take on 21 Jump Street to be any good: Eighties nostalgia leaves me cold, I’m still dubious about Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum never struck me as a comedy lead.  But the film’s reviews were generally positive and I was in the mood for some silly stuff… So it is that, surprises of surprises, 21 Jump Street proves to be a clever and hilarious action-comedy, perhaps the most satisfying take on the 21 Jump Street concept possible given today’s movie-comedy zeitgeist.  Crucially, this movie version acknowledges the shortcomings of the original’s concept and then proceeds to maneuver away from it by taking on a quasi-parody of high-school movies and inverting traditional archetypes.  So it is that the jock discovers that the nerds have taken over, that the nerd is forced in a jock role, and the old rules don’t apply.  The screenwriters clearly have fun with the source material, going as far as casting Ice Cube as a police sergeant, put together a hilariously un-heroic car chase, and killing off characters from the TV show.  Mind you, the comedy isn’t all hilarious: in keeping with today’s current R-rating comedy shtick, profanity is pervasive and a significant fraction of the film’s gags revolve around male genitalia.  Still, there’s enough humor delivered at such a fast pace that a good joke will almost always follow a lame one, and the snappy direction accounts for much of the film’s fun and forward momentum.  Channing Tatum proves himself to be a charming straight man, while Jonah Hill gets one of his least-annoying roles to date here.  The rapid-fire end credit sequence suggests a number of cut subplots, but the result on-screen is more than fun enough… even for people with no affection or knowledge of the original series.  A surprise comedy hit, 21 Jump Street is a bit more than just a nostalgic re-hash of a familiar concept: It succeeds best once it becomes its own comedy vehicle.

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