‘21 Jump Street’ makes comedy of self-awareness

“21 Jump Street,” a remake of the ’80s television program now starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, is exactly the movie you think it is, and that’s what makes it great. It is not deep, nor complex, nor is it even original, but it honestly delivers on the laughs and holds up as a completely adequate piece of filmmaking. Perhaps the best moments are the film’s moments of ironic self-awareness, using its nature as a remake as the punchline of the joke. Overall, if you are looking for a fun, stupid (and I mean that in a good way) comedy, “21 Jump Street” delivers.

The film begins in the heady days of 2005. Schmidt (Jonah Hill), a nerdy high schooler, tries to ask out his dream girl to the prom. She rejects him much to the amusement of Jenko (Channing Tatum), a cool football player. Jump to the present day, and both Schmidt and Jenko are in the Police Academy. Despite their differences in high school, they help each other through the academy. As cops, they become partners on park duty. They think they have a great first bust when they catch a notorious drug dealer, but they fail to read him his Miranda rights. As punishment they are sent to a special undercover squad, located at 21 Jump Street, where they will go undercover as high school students to infiltrate and bust a drug ring. Jenko sees this as an opportunity to relive his glory days, and Schmidt sees it as an opportunity to redo what he saw as a failure. They both soon learn that high school has changed (in a mere 7 years). Schmidt ends up running with the popular crew, while Jenko rolls with chemistry nerds. Somewhere in between throwing parties and trying to get the girl Jenko and Schmidt solve the crime and bust the drug ring.

What really keeps the whole film together is the humor. It’s just funny, and would not hold up if it were otherwise. Do not expect dry, witty humor, of course. It’s slapstick, but it knows when to go over the top and it knows when to hold back. Yes, there is gross-out humor, but only just enough to get a cringe/laugh without getting too weird. Yes, there are plenty of physical gags and people falling over, but this is balanced by genuinely quick and entertaining banter between Hill and Tatum. The chemistry between the two leads is actually worth noting: a fine example of what our society has deemed a “bromance.” Even though neither has a reputation as being a serious actor, they both demonstrate how comfortable they are in front of the camera. The humor comes from this confidence. Simply put, Hill and Tatum both land their jokes consistently, and “21 Jump Street” really benefits from it.

The intended audience probably has no memory of “21 Jump Street” the television program, but that does not stop the film from making some rather hilarious inside jokes. In this era with the constant litany of sequels and remakes, it is a breath of fresh air to see a movie at least acknowledge this ridiculousness. When Schmidt and Jenko get reassigned, the chief says something to the effect of, “This is an old project from the ’80s.” Even Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, the stars of the original television series, get cameos. These are great little moments that set the otherwise pretty unremarkable “21 Jump Street” apart. The film itself is a good remake, staying true to the spirit of the original, while having a voice of its own.

In the end, it’s hard to call “21 Jump Street” a great film. It is even hard to say that I will remember it several months down the road. Overall, it’s pretty thin all around: plot, composition, and characterization outside the two leads. But all of this is fine, because “21 Jump Street” does what it set out to do: it makes you laugh and provides entertainment you do not have to think about. The repartee between Hill and Tatum is genuinely funny, and the film is riddled with moments of gleeful slapstick. Guilty as it may be, “21 Jump Street” is honestly a pleasure.

Nate is a junior. You can reach him at nblum1@swarthmore.edu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading