Two youngish-looking cops (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) are sent back to high school, tasked with discovering the supplier of a designer drug thatís killed at least one kid.
I was expecting a disaster. Itís based on an Ď80s television series that was pretty dopey (what little I saw was, anyway). It stars one guy who hasnít been funny in a while (that would be Hill), and one guy whose wooden performances usually inspire unintentional laughs (Tatum). And I donít think anyone would have been surprised had it turned into just another excuse for modern hipsters to ironically, aloofly make fun of something for which some people have fond, nostalgic memories (like, say, The Green Hornet).
But 21 Jump Street is surprisingly enjoyable, surprisingly funny. Itís not as good or funny as some made it out to be, but I still laughed a hell of a lot more than I was expecting.
Hereís the biggest surprise: Channing Tatum is damn funny. Heís loose and lively in a way that makes you wonder what in the world went wrong with most (if not all) of his previous performances. His character is something of a goof on Tatumís own persona (dumb pretty-boy), and he quite obviously had a great time poking fun at himself. And itís not a case of the movie making fun of him and him not being in on the joke. Tatum is happily self-aware, in on the joke and absolutely killing it. Itís a little odd to see someone of Tatumís age and level of experience do this sort of thing (people who roast themselves tend to be of a more advanced age), but he nails it nevertheless. (Iím not ready to apologize for comments Iíve made about Tatumís work in the past, but he does earn some major good will here.)
Hereís a surprise that isnít as big but is still a surprise: Hill is funny. He took a play from the Seth Rogen playbook and overexposed himself, and I donít think I speak only for myself when I say that he needed to go away for a while. He was terrific in Moneyball, earning every bit of acclaim he received, but then he went and ruined everything with The Sitter (which I think was originally scheduled to be released first, but whatever). But what you get here is something of a return to the Hill of old (read: 2007), the guy who worked at it but seemed effortlessly funny. He gets a co-story credit here, and it was his involvement that finally got the project moving. His character is a reversal of the typical schlub Hill has taken to playing over the past few years, which is an obvious move but works thanks to just how funny Hill (and the rest of the movie) is.
Michael Bacall shares story credit with Hill and receives sole screenplay credit. Bacall had a hand in both Scott Pilgrim and this yearís Project X, which is the sort of pendulum-swing that can drive you crazy if you think about it too much. His work here (I know a great deal of improv was undoubtedly involved in the final product, but whatever) doesnít swing to either extreme, coming in more along the lines of a solid, familiar framework. The plot itself is absolutely nothing special, really just a drawn-out version of something the show used to do.
However, the movieís funny enough (or most of it is, but more on that in a minute) to compensate. Thereís humor mined from how ridiculous the whole notion of any major cityís police force engaging in this sort of activity is, and thereís humor mined from the charactersí meta understanding of just how ridiculous the whole notion is. (One of the best scenes in the movie features Nick Offerman, who plays a police captain who comments on both the absurdity of the Jump Street program and the absurdity of lazily revamping a program that was canned the first time around.)
Thatís the right way to play this material, as the original series was damned silly, which many people finally, thankfully have come to realize (people who still have fond memories of the show are simply being nostalgic; it wasnít good.) Attempting to play this straight or simply remake the show on a grander scale (ala The Fugitive) would be folly. But the movie is never mean-spirited or condescending; no one here is out to make you feel like a fool for liking the series. This isnít a rip, just more of a case of taking a preexisting property to its logical conclusion.
Although the plot is completely disposable, there are stretches where the movie gets bogged down in it, forgoing laughs for unnecessary action or touchy-feely bits weíre expected to take seriously (I think). Thereís a long scene that turns the tables for Tatumís character, dragging out something the audience will likely already have inferred. A lot of time is wasted on a maybe/maybe-not relationship between Hill and a student played by Brie Larson. Itís lazy, unnecessary, and never less than predictable. And the obligatory action climax is simply too much; itís twice as long as it needs to be (and it doesnít even really need to be), and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who helmed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, another movie that turned out better than anyone could have expected) donít stage it all that well. Aside from offering a nice throwback to an earlier scene, itís a bust.
When it remembers to be funny, though, the movie is often very, very funny (in a pleasingly vulgar way). How funny? It brings back the Ice Cube people used to know and love, the mean, witty one, the one I was beginning to fear had been permanently replaced by the family-friend Ice Cube. You know how every movie that features a house party has at least one bit where someone opens a door and discovers people having sex? The one here could very well be the funniest of all time. Old ladies get punched. A girl gets punched in the boob. And some poor bastard uses his teeth to...no, not going spoil that one; youíll just have to see that one for yourself.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer never rises above the level of good. I doubt the original photography was all that polished to begin with, and the image here, which is noticeably dark and a little flat, dulls it even further. It certainly doesnít look bad (not even for standard definition), but itís still a little underwhelming. Itís reasonably refined and relatively detailed, and thereís no evidence of unnecessary tweaks or compromises, but looking at it gives one the feeling that most of the care likely went into the high-def version.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English and French varieties) is also a bit underwhelming, as much of the mix is comedy-nondescript. The shootouts and chases pump some life into it, engaging the surrounds and low end to a modest degree, but dialogue-heavy scenes are front-heavy and a little flat. An English Audio Description 5.1 track is also included; English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The commentary by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum is funnier than it is informative, but thatís okay. The filmmaking isnít exactly accomplished, so substituting laughs for a nuts-and-bolts breakdown is fine by me.
Back to School (7 minutes) is a promotional featurette.
You also get four deleted scenes (6 minutes), all of which are quite funny.
A code to access an UltraViolet digital copy is also included.
Note: The Blu-ray includes all of the above and more. Needless to say, if possible, itís definitely the way to go.
Classic? Nope. Innovative? Nope. Funny? Most definitely.