Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Recent Watches: 21 Jump Street (2012)

In today’s movie world, there’s no dirtier word then “reboot.” Despite sequels and prequels making huge money at the box office, remaking something (which is what “reboot” has basically come to mean) is seen as an act of creative bankruptcy. Remaking an old TV show with little cultural recognition or relevance is seen as especially bankrupt. So when a movie reboot of “21 Jump Street” was announced, people didn’t expect much. When it was announced that the movie was going to a comical take on the series, people weren’t exactly excited about that either, considering recent examples of such attempts were less then stellar. Maybe such lowered expectations is why “21 Jump Street” became a sleeper commercial and critical hit. The film, along with “The Lego Movie,” has turned Phil Lord and Christopher Miller into the guys who can make surprisingly funny, subversive things from dubious ideas. After hearing everyone, friends and critics alike, rave about the movie for three years, I finally decided to watch it.

In high school, Schmidt and Jenko were at opposite ends of the popularity pool. Schmidt was a chubby, awkward nerd. Jenko was a confident jock. A few years later, the two meet in police academy and become unexpected friends. Largely incompetent as cops, Schmidt and Jenko get assigned to a revived undercover program from the eighties. In order to track down the distributor of a new drug that is ravaging the street, Schmidt and Jenko will go undercover as high school students. Once inside, the two get carried away with their mission, make a mess of things, and discover that high school is different then either remember.

“21 Jump Street” is an oddball hybrid. It’s a goof on the original TV show, a parody of buddy cop action movies, a rowdy R-rated comedy, and a riff on high school hierarchies. One of the film’s main jokes revolves around the changing attitudes of high school students. In 2005, Schmidt was the dweeb and Jenko was the cool kid. In 2012, the sensitive, funny, book-smart Schmidt becomes part of the popular crowd. Meanwhile, the boorish, bullying, jockish Jenko becomes the social outcast. Part of this is because their cover identities being switched up but, even if that hadn’t happened, the results would be the same. Anybody who was an awkward dork in high school has probably had fantasies of going back, with the knowledge they have now, and doing it better. The movie plays this idea as much for comedy as it does wish fulfillment. At first, the two are baffled by the changing fashions. After a while, Schmidt gets invited to parties, befriends the cool kids, and has the attention of a cute girl. Jenko, meanwhile, is hanging out with the science nerd. The movie only engages with this idea to a degree and instead goes for the easy joke. They’re funny easy jokes such as the science teacher having the hots for Jenko, other people noticing these guys are way too old, and their awkward attempts to navigate the social classes of modern high school. However, I can imagine a much funnier, more insightful film being made from the “return to high school” premise.

Part of the problem is that “21 Jump Street” is trying to be multiple things. In addition to being a high school comedy, the movie is also looking to parody the explosion-heavy content of action flicks. A low-stakes bicycle chase through the park is filmed like a Michael Bay-lensed chase scene. When the actual car chases happens later, the movie tosses amusing subversion at the characters. Because of traffic on the freeway, they frequently have to stop and change vehicles. Twice, a car looks like it’s about to explode. It doesn’t and when an explosion does happen, it’s under the least expected, most ridiculous circumstances. The bloody finale features the characters’ incompetence getting them in deep shit, a limousine chase, a fairly ironic massive explosion, a smartly deployed one-liner, and castration via bullet. As a goof on over-the-top action flicks, “21 Jump Street” is smarter and more consistently funny.

“21 Jump Street” also roughly fits within the parameters of the buddy movie. Despite being so different in high school, Schmidt and Jenko become fast friends in the real world. Probably because they are both largely doofuses and their brainy/jocky attributes compliment each other. The chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and their quick way with circular, absurd dialogue, provides plenty of amusement. Unfortunately, the movie has to follow the tiresome story arc of every buddy flick. When Jonah becomes more popular at school, it isolates Tatum, who feels left out and abandoned. The two buddies come to blows, getting expelled from school. This sets them up for their last act chance to redeem themselves. Considering “21 Jump Street” is so self-aware, I’m surprised that it would employ such a stodgy plot development.

So is “21 Jump Street” funny? Yeah, sure. The movie has a meta, self-aware edge that is used smartly. Nick Offerman plays the cop that reassigns Schmidt and Jenko, talking about how the bosses are out of ideas if they’re recycling ideas from eighties. A surprise appearance from Johnny Depp is a hilarious reveal. The supporting cast is great, including a delightfully silly Rob Riggle and an out-of-control Ice Cube. The movie has several inspired and surreal gags. A sudden fight at a party ends with a funny surprise. A scuffle during a performance of “Peter Pan” escalates nicely. A reoccurring gag about Korean Jesus got me to chuckle. There’s lots of belly laugh-inducing dialogue. However, some bigger gags fall flat. An extended drug trip is oddly laughless, even with cat heads and ice cream cones. The movie is full of vulgar-for-vulgar’s sake jokes. There’s references to balls, dicks, assholes, fucking, gay panic, so on and so forth. The movie finds a lot of this juvenile stuff far more amusing then the viewer does. In the spirit of any laugh-fests, there are hundreds of jokes that land and a few more that don’t.

Judging “21 Jump Street” as a revival of a half-forgotten TV show, it’s far more self-aware, clever, and amusing then it has to be. Judging it by the “modern day comedy classic” reputation it’s quickly acquired, it falls short. Yeah, it’s funny but not in a way that’s especially biting or memorable. Too often it falls back on shouting and dick jokes. I still have yet to be sold on Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Both are affable enough but neither has displayed the charm required to carry a whole movie. I laughed enough to justify a [7/10] but I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one anytime soon. *

No comments: