SXSW 2012 Review: 21 JUMP STREET

Featured Critic; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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SXSW 2012 Review: 21 JUMP STREET
Of all the 80s television shows, I was never convinced 21 Jump Street was ripe for revisiting. It was one of those mildly edgy things that the fledgling FOX would throw on between episodes of The Simpsons. There were a bunch of cops young enough in the eyes of a TV-watching public to be able to infiltrate local high schools in order to route out mischief. It made celebrities at the time out of the likes of Peter DeLuise and Richard Grieco, but surely history will judge it as little more than a stepping stone for one John Christopher Depp II.

The 21 Jump Street film has refreshingly little expectations for audience involvement with the original property. As opposed to the somber Miami Vice which tried to elevate an already cinematic show into something even more slick, Jump Street takes little else than the initial conceit, the ridiculous notion of sending cops back to high school, and runs with that.

If it's not aiming as high as Mann's beautiful disaster, it's equally not mired in a constant contest of winking at the audience, the way an abysmal Dukes of Hazard film translation finds itself sloshing around in movie muck. If anything, this very funny, very self-aware film is a sibling of some of the more excellent TV show-to-Movie transitions, from the criminally underappreciated The Brady Movie to the recent Muppets film.

The film's setup is briskly told - Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) are hapless cops who are sent off to uncover a drug connection that's killing local students. When they arrive, their identities are crossed, so that the nerdy Hill finds himself in the slacker, popular classes, and Jenko must find his way through Chemistry labs.

It's all fairly conventional, the fish-out-of water story turned on its head (how's THAT for a mixed metaphor!). Most importantly, it's really, really funny. Tatum in particular does extremely well in finding just the right level of douchey for the film, and Jonah Hill reminds us that the glow of Oscar-nominated recognition and a svelting down of his body can't cover up one funny bastard.

James Franco's younger brother Dave plays the cool kid Eric with appropriate intensity, and an ensemble that includes Ice Cube, Chris Parnell, Rob Riggle and Scott Pilgrim's Brie Larson all bring their respective charms to the tale.

Directed by the guys behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Jump Street is steadfast in its wish to entertain. There are car chases, and wild swings of mood and character, but at its heart this is a tale of just how shitty high school really is in meting out social strata, and the wish fulfilment of going back and kicking ass with the confidence (and non-fake ID!) of young adulthood is an intoxicating idea.

By any rights this film should have been abhorrent, and the trailer did wonders to make it look like absolute crap. It's not exactly food for your mind, but it's almost constantly hilarious. Slight pacing issues towards the end aside, this is a little gem of a film, far superior to the usual dreck that we've come to expect from such endeavours.

I'm not sure it'll go down as some comedy classic, but the film manages to jump through very impressive hoops, proving to be stupidly smart and smartly stupid at the same time. Plus, be sure to stay though the end credits, as there's a delightfully abysmal rendition of the original theme song that provides a bitter cherry on top of the whole shebang.

21 Jump Street had its World Premiere at SXSW on Monday night. It opens wide across Canada and the U.S. on Friday, March 16.
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