Class act: Two cops go back to school for an 80s remake – with hilarious results
01:54 GMT, 16 March 2012
21 JUMP STREET (15)
Verdict: Surprisingly funny
After the dubious pleasures of The A-Team, Miami Vice and The Dukes Of Hazzard, 21 Jump Street is another re-hash of a largely forgotten Eighties television series – but it’s surprisingly enjoyable.
The original introduced a young Johnny Depp as one of several cops going undercover to police American high schools. But whereas the original series was serious bordering on over-earnest, the remake has nothing on its mind except comedy.
This new version stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in fish-out-of-water roles – incompetent cops assigned to infiltrate a school purely because they look young.
The men in white: Jonah Hill (left) and Channing tatum (right) in 21 Jump Street
Hill resumes his teenage persona as the never-popular nerd, and Tatum goes back to being the hunky sports jock with negligible intellectual firepower. They’re unlikely buddies, but each is touchingly dependent on the other.
Since neither can remember his own undercover name, they get assigned to the wrong parts of school.
Tatum joins the high-flying chemistry geeks, while Hill hangs out with the cool sportsmen and actors. They are shocked to discover high school is not as cruel or intolerant towards outsiders and homosexuals as it was seven years ago. Tatum’s character exclaims: ‘I totally know the cause: Glee!’
They are particularly upset to learn today’s teenagers are keen to study and be politically correct and environmentally aware. Seeing the cops attempt to adjust is as entertaining as it would be to watch Jeremy Clarkson trying to fit in at a Green Party summit.
Dave Franco, brother of the better-known James, turns in a winning performance as the best-looking guy in school, who is also its leading environmentalist, humanitarian and drug dealer.
Against the odds, the Hill-Tatum chemistry works better than any equivalent pairing since Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell in The Other Guys. The normally wooden Tatum shows an unexpected talent for underplaying comedy and slapstick.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who made animated hit Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, keep the pace fast and manage the visual gags with panache.
Michael Bacall’s screenplay notice- ably falls away towards the end when it relies too much on car chases and foul language. Like Pineapple Express, it stumbles when trying to find something funny in people being shot, limbs being broken and blood spraying.
So I couldn’t recommend this to everyone – many thinking adults will find it puerile and implausible. But for its target audience of 15 to 24-year-olds, it delivers a lot of laughs. And fans of Mr Depp may care to know he puts in a characteristically mischievous cameo appearance.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (PG)
Verdict: Tame but pettable
We Bought A Zoo is based on a true story by British journalist Benjamin Mee. The book, set on Dartmoor, was truthful, heart-warming and inspirational.
The very Americanised film settles for delivering wholesome family entertainment with a touch of charm. It’s decently acted, mildly funny and amiable. Some people may even find it romantic and enchanting.
What a pity, then, that it is so formulaic. It’s much too easy to see where real life ends and Hollywood contrivance begins.
Unfeasibly glamorous: Scarlett Johansson stars in We Bought A Zoo
The moment the anxious, recently bereaved Mee (Matt Damon) and his stroppy 14-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford) arrive at the zoo Mee has just bought on the whim of his little daughter Rosie (the effortlessly cute Maggie Elizabeth Jones), we know they’re going to make a success of it, or there wouldn’t be a film.
We are also aware, because this is Hollywood at its most sentimental, that each is going to find love — Mee with the world’s most unfeasibly glamorous zoo keeper (Scarlett Johansson), and Dylan with the most adorable illegal child labourer you’ve ever seen in the cinema (Elle Fanning, struggling with a grievously underwritten role and not quite living up to the promise she showed in Super 8).
The villains of the piece are Mee’s lack of money, which is unconvincingly resolved through an implausible plot twist, and an officious bureaucrat (John Michael Higgins), who has a grudge against people, animals and zoos. These obstacles are not enough to keep anyone on the edge of a seat for more than two hours.
Writer-director Cameron Crowe has made three great movies – Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. But, after them, Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown flopped badly.
We Bought A Zoo is transparently Crowe’s attempt to re-ingratiate himself with the Hollywood mainstream. It’s his least personal project yet and lacks the quirky self-confidence of his best work.
But Crowe’s talent does shine through occasionally, as does the intelligence of his co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada).
Thomas Haden Church, as Damon’s accountant brother, gets some nicely sardonic one-liners, especially when advising Damon to get rid of the zoo but keep the zoo keeper, or telling him that trying to please a child is folly (‘Rosie’s seven – buy her a zoo screensaver and she’ll be just as happy’).
Crowe, an ex-rock journalist, has a good ear for music, and the soundtrack is a winning combination of favourite rock tracks.
The film is ambivalent about whether it’s aimed at adults or children, with the result that it won’t entirely captivate either.
Where it falls down is that it’s too morbid, slow and repetitive for all but the most patient children, and – at 123 minutes – at least half-an-hour too long.
As for adults, because the screenplay never establishes what Damon’s dead wife was really like, his grief for her is generic. Damon acts the part so deftly, with grimaces and a few words, that he renders much of the film redundant.
Frankly, we’d rather see the animals and experience the problems of saving a run-down zoo than watch him and his teenage son mope.
I kept wishing someone would remind Crowe to lighten up. After all, the film is called We Bought A Zoo, not We Took An Awfully Long Time To Recover When Mum Died.