Director(s): Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are two very talented filmmakers, who understand the subtleties and discipline of comedy. The success of ‘21 Jump Street’ meant a sequel got the green light, and they were allowed free reign over the burgeoning ‘Lego Movie’ franchise, which proved to be one of the warmest, funniest and anarchic family films of recent times. Now, they have been given the ultimate, high-pressure reward of helming a ‘Star Wars’ spin-off, which will focus on one of the most popular characters of the franchise; Han Solo. But, before we get carried away, I want to go back to where it all started to go right for this fantastic directorial duo. I was unsure of what to expect of this comedy, and its relatively untested directors. ‘21 Jump Street’ came off the back of a whole spate of 1980’s reboots, which were, for the most part, rubbish. I was mostly unaware of the history of ‘Jump Street’, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the film to be a refreshing, entertaining and funny movie.
For those of you who don’t know much about this film series, the plot to ’21 Jump Street’ is weirdly quite simple. Amongst the crazy goings on, the story is basically one of two undercover cops, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), who have to infiltrate a growing drug problem and identify the head dealer by pretending to be high-school students. The film features the rebellious and off the wall comedy that is quickly becoming a signature of Lord and Miller’s filmmaking style. If comedy can have auteurs, Lord and Miller definitely fit the bill. From psychedelic hallucinations, to balls out of the bath phallic humour, the movie covered a wide expanse of comedy terrain. This is in no small part due to a tightly written script, which manages to make a plot that is utterly ridiculous seem simple and intelligent.
It would be easy to dismiss this film as “another action comedy”, in the same way you might describe the awful ‘The Bounty Hunter’, but it is unfair to tar this film with the same brush. Most comedies feature heavy improvisation, where the actors are allowed to talk shit for as long as possible, until something vaguely humorous rears its head; ‘Bad Neighbours’ or ‘Sex Tape’ spring to mind. Not in this instance though; the film is well disciplined, running at a cool 109 minutes, which I think is just about the limit for a film of this genre. Any longer and it would become self indulgent. But the comedy is well written, well paced and is given just enough room to breathe to allow the obvious talents of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum to come to the fore.
It is because of Hill and Tatum that the film works half as well as it should. Their chemistry is bang on point and the pair are not afraid of sending themselves up. It takes incredible insight and a degree of bravery to make themselves look this foolish for the sake of comedy. The supporting performances are adequate enough, such as Ice Cube, who is playing, well, Ice Cube; there really isn’t a difference between his performance in ‘Boyz N The Hood’ and ‘21 Jump Street’. It becomes abundantly clear that the directors have just asked him to play it straight, and they tailor the comedy around him. Let’s face it, Ice Cube is an inherently angry man and it is mostly hilarious.
The film does perhaps become a little too self-aware at times, where constant jokes about “another 80s reboot” could be seen to be cloying. Various actors pop up for cameo appearances as we approach the climax of the film, and while they work in context, do not really add anything to the comedy and I was left thinking that they merely exist as a reference point, rather than to service the story. But, all in all, ‘21 Jump Street’ is a refreshing and entertaining comedy film that deserves the popularity it received after release. It is not the perfect comedy, and I am not sure how many other sequels are necessary, but this is good, solid, Friday night entertainment.