** 21 Jump Street (2011)
I don’t know how to approach a review for 21 Jump Street. It scored generally positive marks on all the online aggregate review sites (85% on Rottentomatoes, 7.4 on IMDB and a 69% on Metacritic) and that’s all the really matters these days. The audience who went to see it seemed to like it. Being out of the loop has become a full time gig for me and movies like this one only serve to reinforce that trend. If this is where mainstream Hollywood comedy is heading, count me out because I’m no longer interested. Kudos to Noah for sensing this and trying to warn me, but I wouldn’t listen.
If you’re 25 (or wish you were), you’ll probably love it. It’s crass, irreverent, and full of profanity and recycled penis jokes. If you can’t make it through the first ten minutes however, rest assured that you’re not alone. 21 Jump Street is cut from the same cloth as any number of other Apetow-inspired comedic offerings released over the last few years whose sole purpose seems to be making some of us feel just a little bit further removed from the world around us.
There’s a particularly telling scene toward the end of the movie that will likely put you in one camp or the other. During a chaotic stretch limo chase scene through city streets, a very drunk high school girl who doesn’t really know Channing Tatum’s character and whom the audience doesn’t really know either, is trying to unzip and service him in the middle of a prolonged gun fight. She is, nevertheless, intruding on his limited concentration, so at the next corner he throws her out of the speeding limo. The door flies open, the girl flies out and bounces on the city street as tires squeal and the moon roof gun battle rages on down the block. The audience laughs uproariously and we never see the girl again. Her fate is no one’s concern, sealed by her prom night eagerness for year-end limo sex, come hell or high water.
The scene, like the movie itself, is hardly worth dwelling on, but it’s the kind of throw-away sight-gag that should get under our collective skin, but doesn’t seem to anymore. Somewhere along the line, callousness became acceptable fodder for the comedic grist mill, but to criticize a popular film like this one generates nearly instant calls of elitism and deflates even the possibility of debate. Slap-stick and other forms of physical comedy once considered the victim’s well-being in the aftermath as part of the bit, but its modern day variation doesn’t bother with such trivial matters. If pointing that trend out makes me a film snob, I’m pretty certain I can live with that.
I wonder whether we run the risk of becoming desensitized to the people and the world around us with a steady diet of movies like 21 Jump Street invading the Cineplex every weekend. Beyond its obvious crassness and profanity, there isn’t anything particularly or overtly offensive about it, but it makes one wonder what the cumulative effect of all the underlying mean-spiritedness that’s invaded mainstream comedies in recent years has had on our social interactions. It makes me yearn for the halcyon days of movies like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when the protagonists were just plain stupid, stoned and harmless… if someone got thrown out of a moving car, the filmmaker did a fly-by later on to confirm that they were OK… and the term “bromance” didn’t exist.