26 March 2012

First Impressions: 21 Jump Street

I'm not sure anyone could have predicted that one of the funniest movies of the past few years, possibly all-time, would come in the form of 21 Jump Street (2012). How did this happen? 21 Jump Street is a show known mainly as the launching pad for Johnny Depp, not a particularly interesting, engaging, or dearly loved property. This movie was not heavily hyped or anticipated. Its buddy-cop comedy plot is fairly worn and uncomplicated. Still, has been one of the best movies of the year. HOW?!

The above-clip highlights some of the film's better jokes but it doesn't do it true justice. The film is excessively goofy, primarily caused by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who both prove themselves actors of adept comic timing. They also served as executive producers, with Jonah Hill also contributing significantly to story elements. This allowed them to really let loose a full level of wackiness.

Like I said, 21 Jump Street is a fairly unknown property these days. It has name recognition, sure, but there's no real sense of treasured longing. The film essentially stands on its own as its own comedy, not unlike the Starsky & Hutch (2004) of yesteryear. The film addresses this a few times, pointing out how dumb retreading an old idea is. There are several moments that seek to upset tropes of its genre, including unexpected car chase explosions, the acknowledgement of stereotypes, and the critique of a changed High School life in the past decade.

The movie is really all about the insecurities invoked by High School. Almost like Billy Madison (1995), Channing Tatum finds out that being a huge asshole in school does not make him as cool as it once did. There is a clever switch between him and Jonah Hill, and each use their own natural personae to their fullest comedic extent. Each character learns to respect how the other clique lives and come to peace with both of their failed High School dreams.

Along the way they are accompanied by a great cast of Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Ron Swanson, James Franco's brother (who was also in Superbad (2007), briefly), a chick from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), and that other kid from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's also a horny Ellie Kemper, Chris Parnell, and the clueless guy from New Girl. The best turn, though is from (mild spoiler), Johnny Depp who makes a surprise appearance that immediately captures everyone's attention. There are some other people from the original 21 Jump Street cast here, which is cute, but c'mon, landing Johnny for a ridiculous couple of minutes was huge. They also manage a nice transitions between iterations by simply killing off all the original characters. If only The A-Team (2010) could be so bold. Maybe that was for the best.

As for the two leads, Jonah Hill is running right along these lines. It's almost like his character from Superbad has grown up a bit, although he displays a far greater insecurity that he manages to get over by connecting with his confident, cooler, better-looking friend, but not at the expense (nearly) of his own integrity. Channing Tatum on the other hand, hasn't had the best opportunity to cultivate his comedic talents, but he's getting there. His ability to laugh at his own dumbness really helps the film get along. We can easily picture Jonah and Channing becoming these characters based on the genres they've settled into. Comedy and Action collide with some incredible results.

This movie is consistently funny. The jokes in any trailers don't really do the film justice, the scenes go on tremendously long, squeezing every big of possible laughs out of every situation; on and on to the point of ridiculum. The movie also has a continuous swagger, the main characters have little regard for the consequences of any of their actions or language, and when they inevitably screw things up they aren't filled with awkward uncomfortable moments, which a movie like this could very easily slip into. Instead it chugs forward with an unrelenting pace of absurdity, foul language, and an absolute commitment to awesome.

This is captured particularly in some scenes of the stages of H.F.S. drug use and the end credits, which demonstrate a continuous stream of every awesome image possible. This is perhaps best expressed, though, in the climactic post-prom limo chase through downtown that features gunfire, tuxedos, doves, makeshift bombs, and very nearly a pleasant dose of oral sex. It's also worth mentioning that they worked in a fairly organic mention that Jonah Hill's High School crush is of course, 18 years of age.

This was one of the funnest, hilarious films I've seen in movie theater in years, if not all-time. Yes, possibly even managing to beat this one. There's not a whole lot of depth here beyond tipping over a few tropes, displaying a dose of drugs, sex, swears, and Channing Tatum kicking High School ass, it just works.

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