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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: 21 Jump Street

The Manboy Aesthetic, embodied in this era by Sandler, Ferrell, and rest of the Apatow clan, is fascinating to watch at times. It’s all Jerry, no Dean.

Hot wives are certainly an option. And Apatow is doing personal work in that area. Sandler’s even wet his beak a bit in the notion. But the core of it remains younger guys – and the occasional 40 year old – trying to get laid.

Ferrell can swing to darker places now and again and Ben Stiller is the leader in sexual dysfunction, having been launch into the big game by The Farrellys, who turned out to be a little too dark to maintain their success.

The master of the dark side, right now, is undeniably Todd Phillips, who from the very start has tended to explore the comic side of people who can get laid and do get laid. In other words, he understands the need for The Dean. He didn’t really have one in Road Trip, but he had Vince Vaughn in Old School and then found Bradley Cooper to be The Dean in The Hangover. Billy Bob Thornton made an odd one, but a pretty good one, in School For Scoundrels. And then, the pure 2-act in Due Date, with Downey and The Dean and Zach G. as The Jerry.

But I digress…

The thing that jumps at you first with 21 Jump Street is the name Michael Bacall. We’ve seen it before. Recently. As the co-screenwriter and story creator of Project X, a movie with no Jerry, an iffy attempt at a Dean, and almost all id. Given that the movie makes the screenplay for Project X seem like a cake with 5 times more frosting than cake and that Bacall is also co-credited (with Edgar Wright, who has a whole different take on the Manboy Aesthetic) with the screenplay for the story-driven Scott Pilgrim vs The World, it’s hard to imagine what’s coming next.

Something fun.

The pieces of 21 Jump Street come together in an interesting way. First, there is the central conceit. The stud, played by Channing Tatum, is left in a secondary position by a variety of turns. The pud, played by Jonah Hill, is empowered by a return to the high school of 2012.

There is a lot of movie satire and TV satire, embodied by Ice Cube, a gaggle of high school teachers, and a special guest star cameo… but not so much that it dominates the movie.

There is a lot of drug material, but not so much that it every takes drugs very seriously.

There is a weird sex vibe, but never so much that it creeps you our and takes you out of comfortable place with the key characters.

The surprising choice of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who masterfully made a surreal family movie in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, turned out to be kinda brilliant, as the duo gets off about a half-dozen interesting set pieces that none of the conventional choices for “tweener satirical comedy with drugs” would have aspired to create.

The thing that works about 21 Jump Street is that it’s off key… but in a way that ends up feeling relaxed and yet not sloppy. It’s not a masterpiece. But it feels right, for what it is. It’s a manboy movie that believes there’s a Dean inside every Jerry and a Jerry inside every Dean. It’s kinda post-Apatowian in much the same way that Cloudy was post-John K. It’s a synthesis that doesn’t feel the need to explain itself.

Here’s one example. You have seen the gag on TV or in the trailer where Jonah Hill is going to jump on the hood of the oncoming car just like Tatum did. And in the spots, the windshield is smashed. Not in the movie. He still ends up in a lump on the ground. But they didn’t have to go “commercial far” to get the joke to work in the film. They’re not going to beg for the laugh. (This also puts me in mind of the “When did I get stabbed?” gag.)

Jonah Hill is right in his wheelhouse and unlike The Sitter, never feels like he is trying to overcome an unsettled script by working too hard. Channing Tatum is as dead as deadpan gets, his usual perceived assets being the butt of endless jokes.

I was not a “21 Jump Street TV” viewer, so I probably missed some stuff. But I knew enough to get Ice Cube’s spin on Bernie Casey and the ilk, recognized cameos by Holly Robinson and the ilk, and just like using the word “ilk” in general. I never felt left out of that party.

This is one of those movies that is much better than expected, but is still for a specific audience – if you don’t like dick jokes, don’t go – that will have a good time at this movie that was made for their sensibility.

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17 Responses to “Review: 21 Jump Street”

  1. Sam says:

    I never really watched the show, but I was vaguely aware of it, and it always seemed like a pretty serious and dark crime drama. That’s not the least bit in evidence from the ads for this film, which seems to be just a goofy comedy. But is anyone admitting that this isn’t an actual reboot of the show but an outright parody? And for that matter is there even enough left of the original show for the movie to BE a parody?

    Just curious to hear from someone who watched the show.

  2. cadavra says:

    And you weren’t bothered by the Tourette’s dialogue, where every other word is fuck, shit, suck my dick, etc., which adds nothing to the picture except extreme annoyance that no one–including the supposed good guys–can speak a simple sentence without this verbal diarrhea?

  3. berg says:

    didn’t think 21JS worked at all … Jess Weixler was totally underused, very few solid laughs, and by the time the stunt cameo rolled around it was already too late to save face

  4. sanj says:

    >here’s a Dean inside every Jerry and a Jerry inside every Dean

    umm..links to odd references not everybody like me gets .
    i mean these could be cartoon references like Fred and Barney from Flintstones .

    DP should review that Flintstones movie where oscar winner Halle Berry is in . yeah .

    l’m not excited about this movie because of the trailer
    however if it bombs – is any movie critic going to blame
    Jonah Hill since he wrote and produced it ? or will
    movie critics just not notice that because he got his oscar nomination and you can’t say bad things ?

  5. wilder says:

    The trailer looks terrible, with every obvious trailer gag in recent years. Including the all time fave, OW MY BALLS!

  6. thrownaway says:

    SANJ: below are links with more info about Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. It’s safe to say they played an important role in defining American comedies. Please don’t ask DP to lower the nature of discourse because you can’t use a search engine, it hurts everyone. Thanks.

  7. David Poland says:

    “Jess Weixler was totally underused”

    True enough.

    Saving her for the sequel.

    And Cad… you know… I roll with the language at this point. Like I wrote, it’s almost like post-language usage where the use of multi-syllabic words other then muthafucker is the oddity. I put that in the “give them their premise” category.

  8. wilder says:

    I would put that in the “lazy screenwriters with little wit” category.

  9. ray says:

    14 positve review on rottentomatoes 0 rotten. Stay Press. This movie was Hilarious. Gonna see it again when it hits theater

  10. Ace says:

    I saw 21 Jump Street a week ago and thought it was way better than expected. Was pretty funny/entertaining, which is all you can ask for here. Definitely better than Project X.

    And maybe I’m getting old, but I don’t remember Jess Weixler being in it at all. After consulting imdb, I’m thinking you guys are mixing her up with Dakota Johnson.

  11. David Poland says:

    I think that’s possible. She looked a bit skinny for Jess.

  12. berg says:

    Jess vs. Dakota … i stand corrected

  13. Ace says:

    Ah ok, helped my memory too that I watched Social Network again on Showtime or Starz or something and shes Stanford Ass Girl.

  14. Krillian says:

    I didn’t get the John K reference.

    I watched 21 Jumpstreet TV show in the day, and it seems like it usually had this forlorn mood to it. Michael DeLuise was the comic relief, but Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson and Dustin Nguyen were brooders.

    How peeved were black actresses and Asian actors that the 21 Jumpstreet movie was just going to focus on two white guys?

  15. Yancy Skancy says:

    Krillian: John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy.

  16. hcat says:

    Now the question is who will they get to be Booker for the sequel.

  17. cadavra says:

    Richard Greico is probably available.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon