I've been seeing a lot of garbage lately.
This goes beyond the fried chicken wrappers I can't seem to remove from my face no matter how long I let the dogs lick me. I'm talking about movies that are trash. This is due in part to the fact the movie industry has horrible municipal services and only schedules trash pickups during the early part of the year. In fact, if you ever go all Rip Van Winkle or Philip J. Fry and wake up in a strange era, you can at least tell if it's January or February by seeing if a new Ghost Rider is in theaters.
I expected the 21 Jump Street remake/adaptation would continue to extend trash time through March. What I didn't know is it's directed by the creators of Clone High, one of the greatest cult TV shows of the last decade. If I'd had that knowledge in advance, I wouldn't have been half as surprised that 21 Jump Street was so much fun.
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Nerdy Jonah Hill and jockish Channing Tatum didn't get along in high school. But at the police academy, they learn they're the perfect match -- and wind up partnered as bike cops at the local park.
Following a bungled bust, however, they're drafted into an undercover program. A new drug is making the rounds at the high school. One kid already has died. To stop it from going mainstream, Hill and Tatum must pose as students and track the drug back to its source.
My expectations for 21 Jump Street were pretty low. Low enough to be threatened by a vacuum cleaner. Woo! Another remake! Starring Hill, who's been good but is no guarantee, and Tatum, who's like that family dog that no longer has the energy to be a dog and has instead settled into a second career as a furry ottoman. And no one wants to spend 100 minutes watching a big-screen ottoman. Not even Chair Dracula.
Then 21 Jump Street pulled one of the dirtiest tricks a movie can play on me: it recreated the opening sequence of The Departed.
The Departed is one of my all-time favorite movies. Its opening is one of my all-time favorite scenes. 21 Jump Street deploys a nearly identical technique, a long-form semi-montage of parallel narratives that instantly establishes its main characters and their trials in life. It even takes place in a police academy! Now that's shameless! I suppose I should be put off by how blatant it is, but then again, robbery is pretty cool. And co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller make the technique their own, turning it into a high-energy delivery device for comedy as well as character.
I've slagged on writer Michael Bacall for his last two scripts, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Project X. And with good reason: they were junk. Junk, I say! So I would be remiss, along with a lot of other words I don't understand, to not mention that he's done great work here. Is there a late-action car chase involving drug dealers? Yes. Of course, there is. This is a modern comedy, after all. But Bacall is as clever as he is conventional, regularly spoofing the creative bankruptcy of his own needless remake.
Thing is, he's found some actual depth here, too. While Hill has a blast reinventing himself as the popular kid he never was, Tatum is surprisingly sympathetic as a sudden outcast. It's the first time I've really enjoyed one of his performances.
So sure, 21 Jump Street is kind of facile. It doesn't do all it could with its adults-in-high-school premise. And its last act isn't terribly interesting. But it's as funny and fleet as a comedy has been in months. As usual, laughs rule all. 21 Jump Street has them.