21 Jump Street takes a different, better turn

21 Jump Street – 2012

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Ellie Kemper, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube
Screenplay Michael Bacall

It’s not that I did not ever watch the original television show, I just didn’t ever make it a point to watch 21 Jump Street.  All of the hullabaloo surrounding Johnny Depp, Richard Grieco and what I considered to be the wrong member of the DeLuise family didn’t appeal much to me.  I don’t even remember when it went off air.  All these years later when the movie was announced, I had mixed feelings.  Jonah Hill was an interesting choice, but how could anyone be enthused by the selection of Channing Tatum as his partner?  Tatum has mad appeal to women of all ages, as shown by the above average performance of his films, most of which kind of suck.

How surprising, then, to discover that the most memorable performance of the film belongs to Tatum.  His comic chops, shown successfully in the otherwise average Haywire, and dismally in the waste of time The Dilemma.  Tatum’s turn in this movie is perhaps the most delightful performance of the year.  While not being entirely dimwitted, he puts enough of himself in the position of a fool who, while not hopeless, must make a change to…just about average.  Just like only Nixon could go to China, only someone who is not the brightest could pick up a thing or two by the end of a well devised comedy.

Tatum is not alone in his development.  Somewhat more prototypical journey is from the geek to the popular guy.  Hill, however, doesn’t need to win everyone over at the school, he just seeks little victories, making each one sweeter and more rife for real comedic potential.

The movie’s direction seems at one with the script.  Aside from some early goofball antics that stretch believability past funny (humping a pimp, really?), there are enough little touches (the Captain flicking Hill’s injured elbow) that ring true.  Funnier still is the play on typical loud action expected in any film with cops and bad guys.  Jenko and Schmidt (Tatum and Hill, by name) spend much of the time perplexed when conventional stuff does not occur.

The peripheral characters add much to the enjoyment of the story.  Again, it’s because they are played not quite against convention, but, rather, with a touch of realism that allows for more genuine laughter than the same crap you’ve seen in almost every movie since Porky’s.  Geeks are still geeks, but they have a use, and, importantly, are not universally hated.  The best of these is the portrayal of Brie Larson as Molly.  She is part of a crowd that have a special place in the school, but for reasons that would have made them pariahs 10 years earlier.  Larson is very pretty and at ease on camera.  Last thing I saw her in, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, she was as good as anyone else in the film, playing Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams.  She is headed in a great direction, if these two movies are an indication.

Ellie Kemper gives the most deliciously wicked performance as Ms. Griggs.  Along with

What’s that you say, Ms. Griggs?

her work in The Office and Bridesmaids, she is fast becoming one of the classic comedic actresses of our time.

Ice Cube has become a reliable comic commodity, and here is no exception.  He has the rare talent of being fearsome, mean, funny and comforting at once.  There is no one else like him.

The film is filled with surprises, and even the expected ones take a turn for the better.  The cohesion between Lord, Miller and Bacall bring to mind the classic works of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, or perhaps Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis.  Magical.

21 Jump Street must be seen if you come anywhere close to liking comedy.  Even if you don’t, I dare you to try not to laugh at this one.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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