Finding a good comedy is as rare and as special as finding a good drama.
I remember seeing Bridesmaids and just laughing my ass off. It was just so funny. Funny but with something else underneath, dare I say a heart? The scene between Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig wasn’t played for laughs as much as it was played for honesty. And it didn’t detract from the rest of the movie, just gave it depth.
Fast forward to when I heard that they were making a movie out of the show 21 Jump Street. I was a bit bored and a bit confused and a bit annoyed. It was a great show, for its time, but did we really need a movie based on it?
And a movie with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum? Sure Jonah Hill is funny and Channing Tatum looks nice, but they are no Peter DeLuise or Johnny Depp.
Turns out, they are and we did. And it even had a little depth and heart.
A few things to know about 21 Jump Street, the movie:
1. It’s not the show. The show had a serious side to it. It dealt with “real issues affecting teens” like abuse and AIDS. The movie goes the other way. Yes, it revolves around drugs and drug dealing, but it comes at it from a comedic perspective.
2. It’s incredibly self aware. Ice Cube’s Cpt Dickson relishes his “angry black captain” stereotype and even goes so far as to tell his recruits to “embrace your stereotype” in his, ahem, motivational speech. People are constantly telling Jenko that he looks too old to be in high school – a nod to how utterly ridiculous it was in the show. The movie even finds a way to intelligently bring back some of the cast from the show.
3. It’s really really funny and not just because of Jonah Hill. Sure Hill’s Schmidt utilizes the best of his sarcasm and carefully honed awkwardness, but it’s really Channing Tatum’s Jenko (an homage to a character from the show) who really brings the funny. He plays the combination of sweet and dumb better than I’ve seen in a long time. His “Molecule Monday” recitation was a delight.
4. Chris Parnell has become one of my favorite supporting comedic actors. Between his role as Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock, Cyril Figgis on Archer, and now his drama teacher in 21 Jump Street, Parnell has gone above and beyond anything he did on SNL.
The movie rushes through the initial introduction to the characters when they’re high school – we don’t need 20 minutes to understand that Hill’s character was the sad nerd and Tatum was the dumb jock. We are also rushed through their meet-cute at Police Academy and their eventual partnership through basic training. The movie brings us quickly to where we need to be — their assignment to Jump Street.
The address of 21 Jump Street happens to be not only the undercover headquarters but also a former Korean Church. This is important in that it inspires one of the best prayers I’ve seen on screen – Hill praying to Korean Jesus. A Korean Jesus on the cross. As funny as the concept sounds, it must be seen to be fully appreciated.
Where the movie really breaks through is when Schmidt and Jenko switch undercover identities…due to Jenko being unable to remember who he’s supposed to be. Like I said, Tatum plays great dumb. So Schmidt/Hill is put in with the cool kids and jocks and Jenko/Tatum is put in with the nerds. Schmidt uses this to play out the high school experience he never had and Jenko has to learn to navigate a world where it’s not cool to be a bully who doesn’t try at anything and doesn’t care about anything. Even Dave Franco’s drug dealer is an anti-bullying environmentalist who works on the yearbook.
And in the midst of the non-stop dick jokes and verbal gymnastics, there is space for a real friendship to develop and Hill and Tatum sell it. The marketing campaign showing the two of them paling around comes from the chemistry they had on screen. From their first botched arrest filled with lewd thrusting movements to their first real arrest filled with a stretch limo chase and explosions, they make a great partnership.
If opening weekend does well, there’s talk of a sequel. I don’t think I’ll greet that news with the same trepidation I had before.
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