Comedy is a genre that is very tricky to pull off well. The best comedies tend to be those that are smart, yet still utilize crowd-pleasing antics at their core. Generally, I’m not a very big fan of comedy films. This is because I find so few of them to be actually funny, although admittedly I tend to scrutinize them far more than most. However, with last week’s viewing of The Cabin in the Woods alongside this week’s review of 21 Jump Street, I can honestly say these are two comedies I saw back to back that I thoroughly enjoyed.
21 Jump Street tells the story of two police officers sent undercover at a local high school in order to bust the circulation of a new drug. Part buddy cop film, part action comedy, the back and forth between stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill is the crux of the film. A lot could potentially go wrong, especially considering Tatum’s status as a Nicholas Sparks heartthrob post-Dear John and gruff action star in other roles like G.I. Joe. and The Eagle. Tatum, it turns out, is excellent in comedic roles. He nails his timing and delivery every time, and even manages to outshine comedy veteran Hill in a lot of cases. Tatum’s character’s interaction with the nerdy science students provides some of the film’s most consistent laughs. Like Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love, this is an actor who generally plays romantic drama roles who proves throughout the film that he can also make comedy his own.
Meanwhile, Jonah Hill may not provide the same level of surprise but he is consistently dependable as Schmidt, the guy who was a loser in high school but gets a second chance as he infiltrates the cool kids to determine the source of the new drugs. I’ve loved Hill ever since I saw him in Super Bad, and his star billing in this film is what initially enticed me to see it. He does an excellent job of being the awkward guy who has to learn to play it cool during his undercover assignment. Beyond his role as star, Hill also served as writer and executive producer. He and Michael Bacall have written a script which, not unlike the satirical work Joss Whedon did on The Cabin in the Woods, likes to play with other genre tropes; in this case, teen movies and general 80’s nostalgia are poked fun at throughout. Jenko’s confusion early on that everything he knew to be cool in high school has suddenly reversed itself, and Schmidt’s elation that people with his interests and personality have suddenly jumped to the top of the food chain, provides a fun tone throughout the movie. Dave Franco, brother of James Franco, also stands out as hip, eco-conscious high school drug dealer Eric. Eric represents the script’s interpretation of the modern high school student: relaxed, but keenly aware of many present social issues. Franco does a good job with his material, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
In terms of direction, relative newcomers Phil Lord and Chris Miller prove to be very adept at staging both over the top action set pieces and raunchy comedic scenes. Their previous directing effort, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, is an animated film that got critical praise, and one that I personally enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. In both films the duo proves that they are keenly aware of various types of comedy to appeal to different demographics; Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs included humor both adults and children could enjoy. While 21 Jump Street is decidedly an R-Rated affair, the two prove that they can also direct strictly adult humor without stumbling. They also do an admirable job directing the action scenes, which are clean, easy to follow, and provide spurts of comedy amongst the chases and maybe even the odd explosion. Cinematography and score were unremarkable against the comedy and acting on display, but then again most comedy films don’t tend to spend too much time on that kind of thing. The soundtrack was well-suited for this type of film, and the opening Eminem song for Schmidt’s high school days was particularly amusing.
Overall, 21 Jump Street is the kind of comedy I want to see more of; smart, tongue-in-cheek in some ways, and a showcase for actors’ comedic chops. Please, Hollywood, no more Scary Movie/Epic Movie/Date Movie garbage, and the American Pie series probably didn’t need another film either. I consistently laughed throughout 21 Jump Street, and I think it was a good decision on behalf of the production team to veer away from the tone of the old TV series this movie is based on. What was appreciated, though, was the continuity of this film; the film isn’t a remake of the series but rather the advancement of it, and even includes a cool cameo by a big star who worked on the show as he tells Schmidt and Jenko about his days on Jump Street during the film’s climax. So, if you’re looking for a more mainstream movie that will have you in stitches, 21 Jump Street comes highly recommended. Otherwise, there’s still The Cabin in the Woods.