Tuesday, March 20, 2012

21 Jump Street (2012) – Review

Review: 21 Jump Street is a funny action comedy that hits the right comedic, action and dramatic notes, while making fun of itself at the same time. The film is about two cops who are screw-ups, and as such are transferred to a recently revived undercover unit forcing them to go back to high school to bust a drug ring. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller create sort of a duality to the film, in that it exists within its own real world while also breaking the fourth wall pointing out the almost post-nostalgia inherent in reviving a TV series in film form that most of the targeted audience never watched and the genre stereotypes of action comedies (and/or buddy comedies). For example, the two lead characters Schmidt and Jenko have a movie-based expectation of what being a cop should be like – explosions, car chases, shootouts, and so on – only to realize that their jobs are more mundane than action movies would have them believe, and then all these things happen within the course of their case. Another example has their police captain explaining that they are being transferred to a revived department from the 1980s, and goes off on a tangent about there being no more original ideas, eluding to what is going on in Hollywood currently (and for the last decade or so). These jokes work really well, because they invite the viewers in on the joke, in a sense speaking directly to them. But this would be all for naught if the characters were not relatable, Lord and Miller however do present Schmidt and Jenko in such a manner to get the audience behind them. Something that works really well is that Schmidt and Jenko are shown in the prologue (when they were in high school) as being the loser nerd and cool jock, respectively, but when they return undercover Lord and Miller reverse their roles, which creates both dramatic tension and comedic moments for the characters (which are again relatable to us the viewers). However, aside from Schmidt and Jenko, the supporting characters are not really given much to do other than to fill generic place holders like love interest or villain, holding back the narrative slightly. The audience cares about Schmidt and Jenko, which is the most important thing, but the stakes are not that high because none of the other characters really matter. The villains are never really developed so Schmidt and Jenko are never really in any real peril from the audience’s perspective. Molly is underwritten (though saved by a good performance) so the audience does not really care if it works out between her and Schmidt (we would like it to work out obviously, as we are told they go together narratively, but since Molly is underdeveloped it is not an essential dramatic moment for us). All that said, the point of 21 Jump Street is to be a very entertaining and funny action comedy, and that is what it is. Plus, it is a good overall film too.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Phil Lord and Chris Miller now have two well-received comedies to their names (this and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). They twist genre expectations and stereotypes for comedic effect making seemingly played out genres feel renewed (which is nothing new, but they do it well). With a sequel in the works (and assuming they return to helm it), I am interested to see if they can continue to keep the material fresh. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score fits the tone of the film, but mostly plays second fiddle to the great soundtrack (featuring among others Eminem, The Clash and N.W.A). Barry Peterson’s cinematography is fairly standard for the genre, as well, but the car chases and other action set pieces are very good and well-shot (but nothing special). Peter Wenham’s production design stands out among the aesthetics in the film. His sets for the 21 Jump Street station and Schmidt’s house are fantastic. The cast throughout does a good job delivering funny material. Johnny Simmons, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Jake M. Johnson, Ellie Kemper, and Johnny Depp all provide great bit stuff (especially Ice Cube and Kemper). Rob Riggle and Dave Franco are good in support, but they are not given too much to do really (Riggle just acts like he is slightly on the edge and Franco like he is super cool). Brie Larson is great as Molly, bringing spunk and humanity to an underdeveloped character. Both leads are fantastic, and are in large part responsible for the film being as good as it is. Jonah Hill plays Schmidt to be unconfident and desperate to be liked, which is a perfect match against Channing Tatum’s overly confident and entitled Jenko (never would have guesses that I would actually really enjoy performances by Tatum, but that is five in a row now, even sometimes in otherwise bad films).

Summary & score: 21 Jump Street delivers on what it promised to be: funny, action packed and highly entertaining. 7/10

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Hill and Tatum are great together here and add a lot to this film’s comedy but it’s just the way it is all written that makes it even richer. It’s making fun of those high school comedy conventions but at the same time, is inventing it’s own as it goes on. Give my review a look when you can.