21 Jump Street is this generation’s Starsky and Hutch! I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true! 21 Jump Street is this generation’s answer to the slightly previous generation’s 2004 remake of the forgettable cop show from the seventies! “You young peckernecks wouldn’t know a contemporary riff on a cheesy cop show if it crawled up your iPad while you were tweetin!” We used to tell our slightly younger siblings, back in those heady days of 2009. “Back in my day, we had Owen Wilson! And Snoop Dog!” we’d shout, spilling our whiskey and throwing cats at spittoons. WELL NO LONGER! IT’S OFFICIAL! THIS GENERATION HAS TAKEN WHAT WAS OURS, THAT WE TOOK FROM OUR PARENTS, AND MADE IT THEIR OWN! AGAIN! (*runs in circle on floor like Curly, chugging energy drink*)
[I originally wrote this review for The Portland Mercury. If you could go there for the first part and then click back here to see the extendo version below, that would be great].
They get their aliases mixed up and Tatum ends up in the smart classes with the nerds, while Hill ends up in drama, thriving under the re-ordered social hierarchy. It’s not an insanely creative twist, but it works. Instead of learning a heavy-handed lesson about bullying where he repents for his mean, mean popular kid ways (popular kids are so mean, movies are always telling us!), C-Tates just sort of falls in with his new, nerdy homies. Hill even gets a love interest (Brie Larson) who relates to him through sarcastic, theater kid banter and manages to be more than your standard bland high school f*ck fantasy.
Even C-Tates pulls his weight. Granted, he’s basically playing a dumb-but-sweet, inarticulate meathead, which doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, but years ago, I would’ve told you that the only role he should be playing was Mumbles the Wigger in the Paul Walker Diaries. I don’t know whether the years of ridicule on this site have given him a kitsch value that outweighs his acting limitations, or if I just enjoy Burnsy’s fictionalized C-Tates so much that I live for the occasional flashes of it I see in the genuine article, or if he simply has gotten better as an actor (and I don’t say this lightly, he sucked in Haywire)… but he was genuinely enjoyable here. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME!
The only real knock on this movie, other than the premise (a new concept is always better than an adaptation of TV show, it just is), is the same problem that plagued Your Highness, Pineapple Express, 30 Minutes or Less, et al (though less so here). It’s the attempt to integrate “badass” action set pieces into a tongue-in-cheek comedy. It feels like a studio apology, that they don’t understand comedy well enough to be confident that comedy alone will be “big” enough to sell tickets, which is just retarded Bruckheimer thinking. They’d do better to imitate the action in Top Secret! than Lethal Weapon. You can’t start with self-aware parody and then expect to raise the dramatic stakes with a gunfight, it just doesn’t work. It’d be like if 30 minutes into his act, Patton Oswalt started playing a perfect violin concerto. Impressive, maybe, but not as much as it is confusing, and you’ve been conditioned to see it as a joke.
21 Jump Street hits all the beats you’re expecting – pratfall, banter, tongue-in-cheek slo-mo, stylized drug trip, unexpected celebrity cameo, serious moment, car chase – even silly R-rated studio comedies have become pretty formulaic. But screenwriter Michael Bacall (previously of Scott Pilgrim and Project X) seems to have a weird knack for going big even on expected plot tropes, and for integrating formula in a way that it feels more like competence than hack. In other words, C-Tates was the bomb, yo.