March 27, 2012

MOVIES: 21 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Chris Miller, 2012)

21 Jump Street is neither an ambitious nor a sophisticated movie, and it has the highest dick-sucking jokes per minute ratio of any Hollywood movie in the last decade, which keeps me from offering a wholehearted recommendation. But though its goals are limited, it meets them fully, and the movie's a surprisingly entertaining buddy-cop comedy.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as two young cops who are so incompetent that they manage to botch up bike patrol; not knowing what else to do with them, the boss assigns them to the Jump Street program, "an old program from the 80s that's being revived because no one around here can think of any new ideas." They're sent undercover as high school students to bust a drug ring.

The two had gone to high school together, where Hill was a painfully awkward nerd and Tatum a popular jock, and they're surprised to find that those old roles don't seem to apply anymore. Nerds are chic; jocks are mocked for their stupidity; caring about things like the environment is cool.

The movie carries that reversal into its plotting; there is an obligatory love interest (nicely played by Brie Larson), but she's paired with Hill, not Tatum. But the relationship that really matters is between the two guys, who find their working relationship strained by the case before making up at the end.

Hill's been doing lowbrow comedy for years now, but it's relatively new for Tatum, and he's quite good at it, cheerfully poking fun at his own image as a none-too-bright hunk. There are also good performances from Dave Franco (James's younger brother) as the school's drug kingpin and Ice Cube, who gets to send up every "angry black captain" cliche, complete with a speech about the fact that the role is a cliche.

If it weren't for the movie's persistent and slightly creepy obsession with gay sex as the worst imaginable degradation, I'd be enthusiastically recommending it. As it is, I think the good outweighs the bad, but I wouldn't blame you if the homophobia kept you away.

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