At the Movies with Alan Gekko: 21 Jump Street “2012”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Comedy/Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, DeRay Davis, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Jake Johnson, Nick Offerman, Holly Robinson Peete, Dakota Johnson, Rye Rye, Valerie Tian, Johnny Simmons, and 2 surprise cameos/ Runtime: 109 minutes

It should be noted that a dash of truth, and a degree of integrity will always go quite a ways with a movie-loving audience that only wants a film to acknowledge what kind of film it is and also deliver 100% in regards to its plot and trades in the possibility of giving audiences a half-made film that chooses to errr on the side of caution with a genuine delight that chooses to go as far as it can, takes no prisoners, and doesn’t take the easy way out. Indeed this is because the studios may be surprised to learn this, but film goers are not idiotic nor do they want something they have seen before or that is insulting to them their creative intelligence. A tad bit ironic really seeing as how, even as I write that statement, the vast majority of movie goers will still quite willingly part with 20 dollars to watch yet another exhaustible reimagining, sequel, or adaptation that seems to come off the long-thought extinct project pile. Along with that however we also get a moldy narrative, a cliché-ridden script, a flat cast of characters, and an overwhelming feeling the film is giving audiences one great big middle finger. Indeed the studio views it as money that is easy to obtain, the audience views them as a retreat, an easy to put together date, and maybe a handful are there because they genuinely want to be because they hope that this might just be the moment when Hollywood gets a movie right because they make it the way an audience wants them to. Well I think it is past due for the wants of the movie going public to finally come together with a reimagining that the money spent to see it is actually money well spent. Thankfully such a film has now arrived. Indeed 21 Jump Street is the amazingly fun as well as raunchy yet delightfully over-the-top film for adults that is a delightful punch in the gut to the typical Hollywood fare. Indeed here is a film which punches conventionality in its face, embraces the original source material, and refuses to play it safe even though so many movies have over time. Indeed this is a movie which chooses to defy every aspect of this genre of film that audiences already know about whilst also accepting where it fits in the world of film and showing that maybe there is magic to be found in movies yet. In other words, 21 Jump Street is the type of film that audiences always eagerly await and boy did their patience pay off with this one!

The plot is as follows: 21 Jump Street introduces to a pair of young men by the name of Greg Jenko and Morton Schmidt. Back in that long far off time known as high school this duo wouldn’t be caught dead spending time together let alone let anyone think they could remotely be friends. The reason for that dear reader is you see this mismatched duo were known as the airhead yet popular jock and the friendless, socially inept yet brilliant nerd and this ain’t The Breakfast Club. However that was back in 2005, and our movie is set in 2012. Suffice it to say then that while a lot has changed, what truly hasn’t is that Jenko still is slightly an airhead and Schmidt is still just as socially awkward as ever. Yet fate has decided to give this duo another opportunity to come together by bringing them back in each other’s lives at police academy. This time however, even though they have nearly nothing in common save for the fact that they are cops, they find themselves becoming the best of friends. Yet astonishingly, despite their differences, together this duo is able to make up a single effective law enforcement officer with Jenko’s athleticism, and street smarts, and Schmidt’s book smarts making them a genuine partnership to reckon with…..that is if they can get their act together and grow-up. However, when they blunder up what could have been a pretty good bust for them, it becomes clear to their chief that maybe just maybe they might be a better fit for a rebooted department that had been around back in the 1980s. Upon being accepted into the program they are assigned to masquerade as brothers and penetrate a high school in town where a new potent pharmaceutical known as “HFS,” is beginning to emerge. Once within the high school, they are to infiltrate the group surrounding the dealers and figure out just who is supplying the drug. Yet this won’t be as easy as it seems especially when their cover identities are accidentally switched. As a result, Jenko finds himself in classes he has no knowledge and playing the part of the nerd whereas Schmidt must now act out the role of the jock/popular kid. Thus the question soon becomes: can our dynamic duo not only survive high school a second time while in character as the type of person that each despised back in the day or will they bungle this case and lose not only their careers, but their friendship as a result?

Now there are quite a few items that this film manages to pull extremely well and only a scarce few that fall sadly a wee bit short. Yet even in the case of the latter items, the film really does not give off the vibe that it is punking the audience or taking the easy way out. To be fair, the whole “undercover”, “narcotics”, and “giant car chase complete with shootout” ingredients are lacking a general degree of creativity, but it is what this movie decides to do with the finer details in these ingredients that, from a context level, allows them to function and the movie succeed all the same. Heck even the end tropes featured in this film are either dealt with in a manner that feels novel by either going back to concepts that were brought to our attention much earlier in the movie, or they manage to work in some extreme aspects that only this film could doing in their way. A way that involves taking a tired and cliched to the hilt idea and remolding it into something novel and quite welcome to a willing audience. As such, we get a film that is never, if ever, dull with even the points in the film where you would think dullness would find a way to creep in being entirely negated altogether. It also certainly works in the film’s favor that it doesn’t once give off the vibe that it feels like we are watching a reimagining or a cheap update on an older idea. Indeed if there was a significant key to be found it would have to be that this movie is allowed to be its own thing. Sure there are moments where it flirts with the original source material courtesy of the title, some unique elements, and some very funny but welcome cameos, but other than that this 21 Jump Street is very much its own beast albeit one that is defined by a witty and wink/nudge script, fantastic work from its dynamic directing duo, two amazing lead performances, and a terrific supporting cast backing them up at every opportunity.

To be fair, I definitely feel that it is that distinct blend of the aforementioned elements that really helps this movie come together in such synchronicity that it is able to make a product that is delightfully both mainstream and independent, and clever even if its ingredients might at first seem rote and one note. Yet perhaps this movie’s greatest strength is that it flat out refuses to go down the less tenuous and potentially more profitable path of just making this a run-of-the-mill PG-13 outing. Indeed this is a film which most assuredly earns the R rating it is slapped with and yet it does this with an air of glee and also lording it over other films that chose to be neutered in such a way because some head honcho made it that way rather than the movie needing it. Yet perhaps the most significant thing about this film is that the raunchiness and debauchery doesn’t feel shoehorned in even the slightest. Rather it feels like a natural build-on to a world that has already been established, and is there because it needs to be rather than because it can be. A factor that might explain why this film was not neutered and slapped with a PG-13 rating. Indeed anyone and their mother could honestly see that the debauchery in this molds the film while the top-notch acting and directing are what help define it. Indeed, from a directing perspective, Phil Lord and Chris Miller manage to find a spot-on comedic tempo for the movie, a tempo that manages to shine a spotlight on the mixing together of every possible comedic ingredient including narrative, characters, language, and gags ranging from physical all the way to just downright odd. Indeed from the opening all the way to the last few minutes that promise an intriguing sequel, the movie operates on a spot-on tempo of flashy yet serious action as well as balls-to-the-wall comedy. Yet despite going for the fences at every given opportunity, the film 99.5% of the time feels like a balanced affair and prepared to handle the next big moment the film has up its sleeves. A feat that is showcased by a distinct rhythm that is able to have the audience both laughing to the point of tears as well as intrigued as to what is just around the corner.

Now when it comes to our dynamic duo of lead performers, I think it is absolutely safe to say that both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum manage to 100% deliver on their parts and they have a phenomenal chemistry together. Indeed Hill does a fantastic job of portraying a character who very easily could be the younger yet just as brilliant and a lot more socially awkward brother of Hill’s character in the movie Moneyball, whereas Tatum, at first seems like he is playing a caricature of every stereotypical jock ever, manages to showcase, despite a lack of book smarts, a remarkable degree of confidence, street smarts, and above all friendliness and loyalty that really ensures that this is a truly iconic movie duo. Yet not being satisfied enough with just having these two truly talented actors in the lead roles, the film has also provided them with a squad of equally as winning co-stars for them to play off of at different points throughout the film. However special mentions must definitely go to Ice Cube who is hilarious as Jenko and Schmidt’s new no-nonsense superior on Jump Street, Rob Riggle who is both crass and a delight as the main coach on campus, and Brie Larson who brings just the right degree of sweetness and sass as a girl who catches Schmidt’s eye named Molly. Yet even the performances by Jake Johnson, Nick Offerman, and Ellie Kemper among others prove to be equally as rewarding thus ensuring this comedy is firing on all cylinders.

All in all 21 Jump Street is a wild and crazy plus not to mention raunchy as all get out mixture of both comedic and action elements that manages to really accept its unique gift of drawing from an older source material and turn it into a film that isn’t familiar by either the standards of the 80’s or the 2010’s. Indeed this isn’t really a novel film per se, but rather a brave one for wanting to do the things that it does and do them according to their own standards and when they would like to do them. Indeed this is a film that manages to go balls to the wall in how it unashamedly chooses to let the dogs out and allow them to run where they may. Yet just because this film is crude does not in any way mean that it is bad. This is because it is how natural both the raunchy and the sweet manage to exude from both the cast of characters as well as the narrative that is why it works, but it’s the sly and witty script, the phenomenal directing work, and the absolutely fantastic performances lead by the dynamic duo that is Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum that really makes this soar. Indeed make no mistake: 21 Jump Street most certainly is not the one from the 80’s and it’s not some lazy cash-in attempt either. Rather this happens to be a wonderful and unique time to be had that is both fun and funny in equal measure and truly one of 2012’s must-see films. On a scale of 1-5 I give 21 Jump Street “2012” a solid 4 out of 5.