I Saw The 21 Jump Street Movie And It's Better Than You'd Think

I got to see an advance screening of 21 Jump Street, and I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. And believe me, I rarely like anything Hollywood pumps out these days, ESPECIALLY a remake. Still skeptical that it will be good? Here's a quiz you can take to see if you'll enjoy it:
  1. Do you enjoy Jonah Hill when he plays himself (i.e. Superbad, Knocked Up)?
  2. Do you enjoy a movie with a goofy bromance?
  3. Did you watch and enjoy the original show?
  4. Do you enjoy quirky character humor instead of setup, manufactured punchlines?
Your score:
0-1: Don't bother
2: It won't kill you
3-4: Give it a try. You'll be pleasantly surprised. Yes, really.

Right out of the gate, it will be shunned by cinephiles: Hollywood has gone overboard with the remakes and reboots, so that's already a strike against it. In its defense, the general idea--people posing as high school students--isn't a horrible idea for a movie. In fact, the filmmakers are aware of their own shortcoming; there's "wink wink" references to remakes and rehashing old material. I guess it's of the "we'll laugh at ourselves first before anyone else can laugh at us."

I will proudly admit that I am a fan of the original TV show. The movie is a great homage to the late eighties series, including the hallmarks of the show: the old church, the abrasive police captain, cameos by the original actions, but the only thing kept over was the premise. Where the original TV show was earnest and preachy, the film is more sardonic in its comedy, which seems to be what works these days (it's the Judd Apatow school of humor).

Of course, there's the question of whether Jonah Hill's comedic appeal would disappear with his extra lbs. Fortunately, not too much. Hill does what he does best: being the neurotic, fairly awkward Jonah Hill. Channing Tatum, his abnormally thick neck and all, actually isn't bad, probably because he plays a thick-headed jock character. Sure, the movie is all fun and games and physical humor, but there's actually some elements that make the characters more than the two-dimensional buffoons they first appear to be.

Spoiler alert: they've aged considerably.
For one, it captures the idea that high school students and its various social castes are not what they used to be. Tatum was the popular, mean jock in high school so he assumes he will slide right into the popular role, whereas Hill, obviously the outcast in high school, gets in with the popular crowd--now populated by eco-activists, anti-establishment hipster kids. Tatum ends up relegated to the "nerd" group, who would previously be depicted as pathetic, but here the nerds are smart, tech-savvy kids who enjoy their status in school and each other's company. Hill's character, predictably, gets caught up in finally being a part of the popular crowd that he was rejected from before, compromising the mission.

Oh, the mission? It's to stop a new drug from hitting the market. Eric, the popular kid--played obnoxiously well by James Franco's little brother- is the main dealer and the team needs to find the supplier. The actual plot is not even important to the enjoyment of the movie. It follows the standard plot template: the third act consists of a high speed chase and extended action sequence. It's the characters and quick humor that makes the film, including Rob Riggle as the obnoxious gym teacher, Ellie Kemper as the flirtatious science teacher, Chris Parnell as the egomaniac drama teacher, and the various nerds and theater geeks.

Who edited this film? They deserve most, if not all, of the credit of the comedic sense of the movie. Quick, snarky lines need to be cut quickly. There are party scenes that capture the frenetic nature of the excitement. There are some drug use sequences that are creatively shown in stages, each introduced with a title card.

Sure, this movie will not change your life. You probably forget it the day after you saw it. But these days with mainstream movies , considering it "better than expected" is like giving it an Oscar.

And yes, Johnny Depp does have a cameo, and it was pretty darn clever. That's something I don't want to spoil, especially for those I have convinced to at least give the movie a try.

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