Tuesday, March 20, 2012

21 Jump Street and How Channing Tatum Found His Groove

This past weekend, 21 Jump Street, the seemingly unnecessary reboot of the forgotten 80s television show that made Johnny Depp an overnight heartthrob (of which he rebelled against only to later become a franchise movie star, aside...) became the box office king.  Surprisingly, it's critical reception was just as stellar.  Directed with a freely associative comic quotation marks by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), this buddy action comedy is vulgar and jaggedly uneven, but not without its charms.  Concocted as an inconceivably frantic buddy picture about two underachieving police officers (played by co-writer and producer Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) who go undercover as high school students to crack a drug ring, the film departs from the series completely after initial set-up.  It's kind of all over the place, at once a cartoon, a high school sociological excavation (where Hill's nerd and Tatum's jock find themselves in a Freaky Friday-like switch-a-roo the second go around), part bromantic frat boy love fest sliced with Apatow-like obscenity, part violent action film-- it's actually really exhausting, and almost sluggish despite it's brisk pacing.  The ace in the hole, and the most startling element to 21 Jump Street is surprisingly, even shockingly, the charmingly self assured, even amusingly graceful comedic performance by Channing Tatum.

Who would have thunk it?  The former model (and stripper, soon to be dramatized in Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh) had such natural comedic rhythm, an unforeseen dimension of, well anything, in playing the dim, ab-informed, intelligence-deficient rookie officer Jenko, a stud in high school who in adulthood finds such amusing vulgarity and more surprisingly, the only facet of a genuine heartbeat in 21 Jump Street.  He has such a well-worn, unassuming dumb look on his face that feels strangely true; all the while spewing the weird, slightly worn out dick jokes that pepper the screenplay.  As a pretty boy familiar to audiences in such awe-shucks sub-romantic sudsers like Dear John and The Vow where he was nothing but obligatory eye candy, one would never expect such an unexpectedly effervescent and charming performance from the actor.  He plays dumb, but gets the joke in such a knowing and nearly insightful way that it not just makes the movie stronger, but altogether calmer in its disheveled frantic-ness.  I remain true in stating 21 Jump Street is merely average as filmmaking, but Tatum's performance is a slight game-changer for the ab-admired actor, a nod of confidence for his future, and a step up for the film.

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