The thesis of 21 Jump Street is as follows: the coolness paradigm for high school kids has recently shifted. Now, instead of being into sports, nihilism, and rap music, the “cool kids” are into environmentalism, being on the honor roll, and theatre. If this film were a term paper, it would get an “A+” for taking a controversial stance and tactfully defending it—something most screenwriters, especially comedy screenwriters, don’t bother with these days.
It’s easy to appreciate the irony, especially for someone like me who is exactly a decade removed from the hypocrisy of high school, and who was intimately familiar with the social hierarchy that dictated a typical teenage lifestyle in 2002. While this new model of coolness might exist in high schools of extremely liberal, affluent areas like, say, Orange County, I’m highly dubious of its existence anywhere else. The thing is, I don’t care—I really respect this movie for taking a contrarian stance and sticking with it. It’s inherently entertaining.
If you are unfamiliar with the premise of 21 Jump Street, it involves two twenty-something police officers going back to high school to infiltrate a drug ring responsible for doling out a dangerous new party drug. The two, played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, were enemies in high school, but overcame their differences and became best buds at the police academy. Hilarity ensues.
Example: on Hill and Tatum’s first day of school, Tatum sees a kid studying, and makes fun of him for “trying so hard” at school. When his insults don’t go over well with the cool kids, he calls the student “gay” because of his music choice, and punches him. The student takes this as an overture against his sexuality (he is actually gay), and he, along with the rest of the cool kids, are deeply offended. Tatum’s consternation—his frustration as to why his dumb-jock nihilism is no longer cool—is highly amusing. He just doesn’t get it.
Jonah Hill’s character does get it. He was a huge nerd ten years ago in high school, being dubbed at the time “not-so-Slim-Shady” by dickhead jock Tatum. As you may have guessed, given the coolness paradigm shift, the contemporary Jonah Hill character gets the upper hand with the cool kids, and Tatum is begrudgingly relegated to hang with the dorks. Seeing Tatum try to integrate himself into band class (which is still uncool, apparently) is genius stuff. Conversely, seeing Hill prance about as Peter Pan in the school play is equally hilarious.
Good R-rated comedies are sadly a near-extinct species these days. In today’s virtually taboo-free cinematic environment, filmmakers often feel obligated to be uncompromisingly crass. (I’m looking at you, Todd Phillips.) If you’ve seen recent R-rated comedies like The Hangover 2 (penis everywhere) or The Change-Up (diarrhea everywhere—both literally and metaphorically), you know what I’m talking about. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not about how funny you can be, but rather how gross. It’s an unimaginative shortcut too many comedy writers are taking these days, and generally speaking, I hate it.
Thank you, writers of 21 Jump Street (Jonah Hill, Michael Bacall) for not succumbing to this obnoxious trend. Your movie relies on strength of character, story, inventive writing, and slapstick to be funny. You understand that, while having a woman style her hair with semen is funny, this type of humor resonates only with the lowest common denominator. I appreciate your vintage approach to comedy, and I’ll happily drop another 10-spot on the inevitable sequel.
You might not be fat anymore Jonah Hill, but you’ve solidified your status as a comedy heavyweight. Keep up the good work.[iframe: width=”630″ height=”350″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ZirgAYBcOgo?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>]