Discussing 21 Jump Street and a Pair of New Releases
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
The advance buzz on the adaptation of 21 Jump Street left something to be desired. Months away from the movie’s release, moviegoers and critics alike expressed real trepidation. Would Channing Tatum’s bland blockheaded good looks bring in the ladies? What about the ever-changing Jonah Hill, a newly minted Oscar nominee — would this rising star continue to shine or would this be reminiscent of his raunchy stumble in The Sitter? Does the new generation of multiplex fans have any sense or connection to a gimmicky pop-cop show from the ‘80s, even with its reputation as the show that kickstarted the plunderific career of Captain Jack Sparrow?
I settled in for the preview screening with no expectations, which really means I was totally prepared for a two-inch vertical, at best — and that factors in my genuine love for Hill’s comedic chops. A long-trending topic in the film and television industry, the crossover of projects from the multiplex to the home box and vice versa is a curious notion, especially the jump from television to big screen in an age dominated by reality programming. Maybe the golden age was the ‘80s, hence 21 Jump Street.
A funny thing happened on the way. The movie was actually funny, hilarious, in fact. Another raunchy teen-based comedy, following closely on the heels of the epic Project X party, Jump Street capitalizes on its detonation of the rules of decorum and taste, but it also packs a sly punch line in its depiction of the reversal of fortunes among the high school social network. The gleeful geeks now reign supreme. Everyone wants to be a fey geek, which means that a shy nerd like Hill’s Schmidt gets to go back, as an undercover narc, and enjoy the fruits of his labor, while the cool jock Jenko (Tatum) is left wondering what went so wrong in the natural order. Who knew smart social commentary could be so much fun? And after a strong opening day (on the way to booking a big-time box office arrest), Sony has already signed up for a sequel.
Among the chattering class, speculation runs rampant. What’s going to be the next series to make the jump from television into the feature film franchise ranks? Arrested Development can’t seem to develop beyond its loyal cult base and there just aren’t enough hours or terrorist threats left to generate a 24 feature.
Well, why not Breakout Kings, the A&E series about a special FBI program that uses cons to catch recent escapees from federal prisons. March 13th marks the street date for the first season on DVD, while the second season opened with the shocking death of one of the Kings. There’s no real breakout star among the cast, but the premise, with its shades of 48 Hours, has the kind of episodic hook that a team of screenwriters could spin into a string of sequels and reboots ad nauseum.
Or maybe we should stick to the notion that some stories belong on television, where the details and red herrings of a show like The Killing can create a weekly web of intrigue. Based on a Danish crime procedural, the US edition, also on A&E, has a thirteen-episode season (the Complete First Season is out now) that follows a police investigation into a murder with all the tangential strands of family, various community elements and the overall political landscape coming into play. Many fans were confused by the lack of closure at the end of the first season, but will likely be drawn back in once the second season arrives on April 1st with a two-hour premiere.
It sounds silly to say that television is the new real, in terms of narrative storytelling, when so much airtime is devoted to the reality of housewives, bachelors, song & dance competitions and celebrity chef cook-offs, but cablers A&E and HBO are proving to be the last bastions of action and drama with production values that jump out of the box and off the screen.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com