Tuesday, April 17, 2012

712 - 21 Jump Street review



Am I wrong, or are big screen comedies getting nicer? By that I certainly don’t mean “cleaner,” since the intensity of filthiness allowed under an R rating has crept up to levels unimaginable earlier in my lifetime. Yet these same movies make a point of conjuring up as much empathy for the leads as possible, as if to insist that they, and by proxy the audience, constitute decent people deserving of happiness. The protagonist jerks seem to have all migrated to television.

Take “21 Jump Street,” which, like “The Brady Bunch Movie” from the 1990s, is a parody of the old TV series rather than a serious attempt of recreating its original intent. I’ve never seen an episode, though I doubt it had as much heart as this. I also doubt it had as much cursing and as many sex jokes.

The film’s protagonists, Schmidt (Jonah Hill, who also gets a story credit) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), are in the middle of a hardcore bromance, that useful and already overused term that describes relationship arcs in movies where what would normally be a romance occurs between two heterosexual men. Has the contemporary commonality of divorce slowly been convincing a new generation that the true love of one’s life is to be found in friendship instead of romance? These films tend to forget that breaking up with a good friend can be every bit as explosive and traumatic as doing so with a romantic partner.

Schmidt and Jenko were opposites in high school, but befriend one another at the police academy when it becomes clear that lacks a key element to police work (good fitness and average intelligence, respectively).After a brief and blazingly incompetent stint as bicycle officers, the pair are assigned to an undercover unit that places youthful looking officers in high school classrooms. That both easily look too old for this becomes the point of more than a few jokes, as does the unoriginality of the premise.

A return to high school represents a challenge and a therapeutic opportunity for both men. Schmidt was an unpopular nerd that couldn’t even get a date to the prom, whereas Jenko was cool but so pathetic academically that the school rescinded his invitation to the dance. Thanks to a mix-up, each inherits the other’s cover story, so Schmidt now finds himself surrounded by the cool kids, whereas Jenko’s time is spent in AP Chemistry, the sort of class smarter men than him avoid.

Against their expectations (though perfectly in line with our own), they each thrive as the other half. As they infiltrate a drug ring, Schmidt finds himself in an actual romance with a pretty senior (Brie Larson), that the film takes pains to inform us is 18-years-old. Parents, if you were to find out that your high school student’s love interest was an undercover cop, would that bother you, even if she was 18? I’m getting too serious, I know.

At its heart of “21 Jump Street” is that bromance, the idea that competing personality types can functionally synthesize and complement one another, perhaps especially when separated from the cliques of a place such as high school. Hill and Tatum have a comedic rapport that carries the film through its tropes and nostalgic gags, not so much elevating the material as sharpening it. There’s not much memorable about specific jokes, action scenes, or themes, but there’s a warmth and sincerity to the lead performances that makes me hope that we get to see these undercover cops take a swing at college.

3.5 out of 5

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