21 Jump Street – Art 1/5 Ent 4/5 Worth 3/5
My almost non-existent faith in comedies is only slightly restored by this, only slightly. And that’s mostly out of the filmmakers’ admirable trait of just not giving a fuck. If we’re running a laugh counter while I’m watching 21 Jump Street, it’d mark 2 for the physical comedy scenes following the intoxication of the main characters, played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and maybe 3 “heh”‘s throughout, mostly for the self-referential stuff alluding to the old television show that is practically night and day with this Team Apatow comedy. That’s not terrible, but if you ran the laugh counter during a nightly episode of The Daily Show, it might surpass that easily 2 out of the 4 nights it airs weekly.
For the most part, the humor in this film falls into one of two categories: the cute and the bait and switch. The cute stuff tends to revolve around Jonah Hill’s ‘fish out of water’ gags, his attempts to woo a girl and Channing Tatum finding himself with a gang of nerds. This is the stuff that’s designed to target a female audience who feels ambivalent about seeing another Frat Pack picture (although Apatow and Hill are becoming geniuses at selling subtle conservatism through poop jokes to women). The bait and switch stuff, on the other hand, has a more broad design, and I think it’s somewhat more effective. When the two knuckleheads arrive on campus for their first day, they’re trying to fit into a high school movie cliche with as much ease as possible and just get further and further confused by the contradictions until Channing Tatum unknowingly punches a gay kid, provoking horror in everyone around them. This is not quite the high school that Not Another Teen Movie sends up, nor the John Hughes oversimplification, and especially not my high school where chewing tobacco indicated prestige.
But using the unexpected and unconventional is the best way to disguise an overdone, simplistic narrative. The dynamic between Hill and Tatum is the reverse of the typical buddy cop genre, with Tatum as the kindly oaf and Hill as the suave foil. So that’s definitely a little weird, and makes the movie marginally more fun than just about every Hollywood comedy out right now. Without that, it’s very easy to say 21 Jump Street would just be another in a heap of boring by-the-numbers flops that make no bank. James Franco’s little brother Dave provides plenty of weirdness as well, as we try to finish the film convincing ourselves that he’s not his brother. And speaking of weird, listening to an Ice Cube gangster rap song while he’s appearing in character as the intentionally-cliched police captain has to be either one of the worst of the worst as a faux pas, or one of the greatest incidents of “your mind just got BLOWN, son.” It doesn’t even have to be one or the other, it very well may be both!
But I still didn’t laugh that much. Something tells me this would have been better as a skit on Funny or Die. When the economic effects of the advent of the internet and streaming and downloading etc. take their complete toll on the film industry, I think one day it may very well be more profitable to do this on Funny or Die, maxing out at 20 minutes at best.