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Monday, April 23, 2012

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(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 22 April 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Brie Larson, Ellie Kemper
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Rating: 3.5 stars
I must confess I expect very little from a movie whose poster has two men striking poses with guns. That could be why I found 21 Jump Street surprisingly good. From trailers and previous experience, I expected this return-to-high-school comedy involving a jock-nerd pairing to hinge on bad hairstyles, romance with teachers, and camp humour.
Yes, there’s all that – beginning with a police captain called Dickson (Ice Cube) – but there’s enough entertainment on the side. This is no tribute or sequel to the original TV series starring Johnny Depp, and the only callback to it is a nice touch towards the end.
Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill), like anyone with a Jewish-sounding name in a Hollywood movie, is brainy, while Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), like anyone with an Italian-sounding name in a Hollywood movie, is cool. Here’s where the movie sidesteps the formula – Jenko doesn’t actively bully Schmidt. They belong to enemy classes, but are not personal enemies, and barely meet. The prologue is, thankfully, kept tight, just long enough to give us a little context and a few laughs.
Eight years later, guy-who-can’t-ask-out-a-girl-to-save-his-life and dude-who-has-the-key-to-every-burger-joint-in-the-city-but-can’t-count-to-three-without-thinking meet. And become friends. With Schmidt’s brains and Jenko’s brawn, they can conquer the world, they think – but find out they can’t even patrol a park.
They get assigned to an undercover operation in a high school, on the premise that they look young enough, not. As if to make the disguise even more bizarre, they decide to go with being brothers. The awkwardness of people trying to fit back into eight years ago isn’t overdone, but isn’t overlooked either.
The dialogues make you break into grins, and the casting complements them. Channing Tatum can never look anything but the jock – the movies where he’s playing ‘sensitive’ roles make me want to put a bullet through my laptop. In comedy though, his blank expression could pass for good acting. Jonah Hill, even minus all that lard, provokes endearment from sympathy.
The film is far from free of cliché – there is the inevitable fresh start routine. And a step-into-the-other’s-shoes routine, which would have been excruciating with poorer screenplay. All this is tied in with a drug bust, so there are high-speed chases, dangerous-looking bad guys, and a party where everyone gets wasted, following which there are confrontations. But the film is rescued by its treatment.
The Verdict: 21 Jump Street is a fun, easy watch that never gets boring.


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