SXSW Review: 21 JUMP STREET

by Laurie Coker

Okay, so I am a dork, I watched ’21 Jump Street’ back in the late 1980’s. I swooned over Johnny Depp, so I felt pretty skeptical when I heard that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were reprising the show in a feature film. Still, I was curious enough to give it  a try – and to be honest, I looked forward to seeing the cast at the Paramount theatre’s SXSW packed house . To my surprise, I actually very much enjoyed the campy, action and humor-packed “bro-mance” – a reference made my Tatum himself during the Q& A following the film.

Hill and Tatum  star as Schmidt and Jenko, high school opposites who later become best buddies while attending the police academy. Schmidt, a total loser nerd in his teens, is the brains, where Jenko, the popular jock, thick head-type, is the brawn, and together they, after messing up an arrest, end up at 21 Jump Street, where the angry, black police captain (Ice Cube) assigns them to pose as high school students in order to find the source of drugs that have already resulted in the death of one student. It’s pretty trite to be sure, but so much fun to watch. Although, I will say at this point that one of my critic friends (a dude of the well-educated and not too butch type) did not like the film at all. In fact, he disliked it so much, he wouldn’t even talk about it after the screening.

Interestingly enough, he detested this film for all the same reasons I should have, but I did not. For me the most notable and enjoyable aspect of the film lies in the obvious chemistry between Hill and Tatum. They play off of each other amazingly and the apparent connection pours over to them personally, as was evidence by all (1200+ patrons) of those in attendance at the SXSW screening I attended. The entire cast during Q&A proved what it means to really enjoy working together on a film. The energy and jocularity continued long after the final credits rolled.

Sure, the humor at time borders on tasteless, and even crosses the line a couple of times, but I did not mind. The rest of the film entertained me that much. The story offers little new, in fact, it plays on every cliche possible and then some and does so with campy ease. Rob Riggles, who also stars in another SXSW film (Babymakers) plays a high school teacher and his is a character that I could have lived without, although the story could not. Dave Franco plays Eric Molson, a eco-freak who happens to sell drugs to his classmates. He, too, did not appeal to me as much at the film’s leads.

Rated R- for all the obvious reason, ’21 Jump Street’, garners a B+ from me. Based on my usual tastes, by all accounts, I should have hated it and I didn’t.  And based on the audience reaction, I am not the only one who had a great time. Except for the aforementioned friend, I heard only good things as I exited the theatre.

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