Tuesday, April 17, 2012

21 Jump Street is just as Goofy, Raunchy, and Hilarious as You’ve Heard

Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Dexter Try to Escape the Action
     My Mom wanted to see 21 Jump Street while she visited so we thought what the heck, why not?  We were very surprised to find a sweet natured, foulmouthed, sexually raunchy, nastily violent, and very funny movie.  Although using the armature of the 1987 – 1991 TV series by placing two undercover police
officers in a high school to investigate drug dealing, the tone of co-star Jonah Hill’s script is simultaneously more naïve and self-reflexive than the original.  The TV show felt like a hipper version of an ABC After School Special on the nascent Fox network and, if I remember correctly, played incongruously on Sunday nights.

     High school revolved around cliques in the series and in this movie, thereby reinforcing the whole Fast Times At Ridgemont High through John Hughes’ oeuvre through Mean Girls subgenre, but what’s hip about the movie is how it changes up the pecking order of the cliques and what it means to be in them.  Within this context, you can be socially popular, metrosexual, eco-friendly, and deal drugs.  The big Friday night party scene while the parents are away—a high school movie trope—takes off from many others, but adds notes of acceptance of pansexuality and simultaneous terror of nascent homosexual panic/homophobia that really made me curious about how the Millennial Generation will handle the “Culture Wars” at least in terms of sexuality and violence.

     Jonah Hill rose through the ranks of the innocently raunchy/confused by the opposite gender/hanging with the techy geeks or the druggy freaks in Judd Apatow’s various ventures to prove his dramatic worth in Moneyball last year and now he shows he’s a writer-star with enviable buddy comedy chemistry.  I expected him to be good and he’s actually better than that because he looks like he could be a high school junior.  It’s Channing Tatum who is the out of right field surprise.  I’ve liked him in other movies (Coach Carter, Step Up), but he hasn’t been on my radar because he’s usually in the type of goopy romantic dramas that I’ll watch on a bus or late at night, but not pay for at a cinema.  Although he doesn’t quite look like a high schooler (and that’s referred to wittily a couple of times), he is genuinely gawky and insecure as a young adult who can’t quite believe that he’s failing at something he succeeded at brilliantly a few years earlier.  There isn’t a trace of self-consciousness about his acting; he commits fully even though his character is more foolish – and funnier – than Hill’s (another kudo to Hill because he has the artistic guts to emphasize the story’s, rather than his own character’s, strengths).

Ice Cube as Their Boss
     There’s some delicious casting including the original TV actors in cameo roles (Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise share a touching and gross moment together) and Ice Cube never comments or winks to the audience as the duo’s autocratic boss and, because of this, he’s shockingly funny.  He could care less about political correctness.  When I heard “Straight Outta Comptom” playing in one scene, I thought that he was still as tough and honest as ever.  

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