As I sat through 21 Jump Street, the latest television-to-movie adaptation, I couldn’t help but think about the idea of laughter; why we do it, what makes us do it, and how so many different types of comedy exist. I also thought about one of the most over-used abbreviations in many of our lives: LOL (although, in full disclosure, I stay away from using it; I’m a “haha” guy). If people are indeed LOLing as often as they are texting, IMing, or even, in the worst cases, saying it (it’s true – I’ve heard it…) then there is TONS of laughter in the world today (which would be great if it were indeed true). I forget where I heard it, but I once heard someone say it should actually be LQTM (Laughing Quietly To Myself) because that’s really what we’re doing when we use the phrase LOL.
Why do I bring any of that nonsense up? Because, quite frankly, 21 Jump Street made me LOL. A lot.
The plot is very simple and all the marketing they did for the film did my job for me on that front, but I’ll brief you anyway. Two ambitious and young police officers (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) go undercover as high school students to weed out (no pun intended) a new drug that has been making its way around the school and find out who is to blame for its prevalence. We get the obligatory “there’s the geeks, there’s the jocks” set-up when they arrive to the school, but from there, the gears really change, as the film utilizes it’s present-day setting to embrace technology and style trends to great effect.
Before I go any further, I would like to take you back to an excerpt from my review of Haywire, the Steven Soderbergh directed action flick from earlier this year. In it, I said, “But surprising me greatly was Channing Tatum, who looks to do big things in 2012 (he has starring roles in three films this year – the romantic drama The Vow, the action comedy 21 Jump Street, and the big budget sequel G.I. Joe 2). As I watched him on screen, I could not get the thought out of my head that I was watching a young Brad Pitt in the making. From his drawl to his sarcasm, Tatum used every second he was on screen to his advantage.”
I love when I’m right.
Tatum is fantastic as the “brawns” to Hill’s “brains” (as my friend Emily said “he does a great job of playing an idiot”) and as it turns out, he has great comedic timing. I could actually push that Brad Pitt analogy a little further, as Pitt has been known to crack a few jokes in his days and even in some of his more serious roles (namely in Se7en and Fight Club) his character can bring a laugh out of a dark situation (I’m reminded mostly of the scene in Se7en when he bends over the table and tells Morgan Freeman that’s where the killer has them – just his tone alone breaks the dark and dreary mood that permeates the film). Tatum is very funny and once they go back to high school and the roles are reversed (Hill’s character becomes the popular one, turning the tables on what their first experiences in high school were) his interactions with his new “unpopular” friends brings out a lot of the film’s laughs. He absolutely steals the show and I look forward to see what else he can do in the future (except for The Vow – that’s not happening!).
It’s probably easier to be funny when you’re opposite Jonah Hill, who just constantly brings the funny as far as I’m concerned. Whether it’s his tone or his body language (or both… or neither!) he is just a funny guy. Even when he misses (see – or rather, don’t – The Sitter) he still has moments where you just can’t help but laugh. And here, in his first time playing “Skinny Jonah Hill,” he doesn’t disappoint. There’s not even a singular thing that stands out really. Whether it’s our brief glimpse of his high school days as “Not So Slim Shady” or his drug-aided audition for the role of Peter Pan, he is at the top of his game here.
The film also benefits from a strong supporting cast. Laughs aplenty come from the entire group, whether its Ice Cube (over-playing the Angry Black Captain a bit, but still, Cube gets laughs just from swearing at a high noise volume), Rob Riggle (like he did in The Hangover and The Other Guys, he’s able to get laughs a little too easy), Little Franco (it’s Dave, actually – James’ brother – and like he did in the unnecessary, but occasionally funny, spinoff of “Scrubs,” he is able to be likeable even though he acts like a complete tool, and what’s funnier than watching a tool get his due?) or Ellie Kemper (of Bridesmaids and “The Office” fame, she has a few brief scenes but gets laughs out of each one).
Put very, very simply, 21 Jump Street is one of those comedies that is it’s trailer, only for an hour and 45 minutes. There are big laughs and there are consistent small laughs and there’s even some solid action toward the end (plus a great running gag about explosions that pays off very nicely). It gave me everything I was hoping for and a little more. And if the final scene is any indication, and we do get more of these two running around, they will almost assuredly have my money. It’s not every day that you get a comedy that delivers exactly what you were hoping for when you sat yourself down: laughs.