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When I told people a month ago that 21 Jump Street is endlessly entertaining, many were incredulous. Whatever the reason for the response — lackluster marketing or remake malaise, perhaps — I’m hopeful the critical buzz is enough to quell the naysayers. Because, I promise you, 21 Jump Street is the new hotness. Think Superbad meets a John Hughes movie. Think this year’s Bridesmaids. Think immensely quotable, perfectly paced, stomach cramp-inducing hilarity.
Consider the film’s pedigree: You have veteran funny guy Jonah Hill as a star (and co-writer, with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World‘s Michael Bacall ), the Honorable Mr. Ice Cube, and Step Brothers and The Other Guys actor Rob Riggle (finally given the opportunity to turn in a substantial performance).
But the real gem of 21 Jump Street lies in its comedic newbies, namely: Channing Tatum (you will never, ever look at a fully stocked high school band room the same way again) and the (dare I say) far more charismatic and attractive younger brother to James, Dave Franco, who plays a popular student at the high school the two infiltrate
Hill has admitted this movie doesn’t seek to remake the Johnny Depp-starring ‘80s TV series on which it’s loosely based (the film could stand on its own under another title). However, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who bring their playful Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs mentality to the material, dedicated themselves to researching the source material so they could insert references that die-hard fans will appreciate.
What’s most admirable about 21 Jump Street is that it’s blissfully self-aware: Every joke you could possibly seek to make about stereotypes or plot conventions are made beats before you think of them. The film follows officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) , who have a less-than-stellar high school history together, as they strike up an “opposites attract” relationship while training for the police force. Schmidt, the analytical nerdy guy, and Jenko, the physically blessed ex-jock, form a bond by strengthening each other’s weaknesses, and their friendship takes them through a hilarious series of events while on duty. They land on a fledgling project at 21 Jump Street with ornery Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), where they’re assigned to go undercover in high school and seek out the dealer behind a mysterious drug ring.
The two quickly learn that the roles they played during adolescence no longer apply — environmentally aware and well-educated are what makes for popularity these days — which leaves Jenko reeling and Schmidt reigning. The movie does a fantastic job of developing their newfound roles, and all the wrenches that plight throws into their relationship, as an undercurrent to their assignment.
It’s frustrating that I feel the need to preemptively defend 21 Jump Street, as no one but the critics seems convinced at this point. It’d be easy for me to give away a few of the film’s numerous gags in hopes of enticing you, but it’s just the kind of film one doesn’t spoil. You’re going to have to take my word for it: Even at this early juncture in 2012, it’s entirely possible that 21 Jump Street is the funniest movie you’ll see all year.
21 Jump Street opens today nationwide.