Awesome 21 Jump Street is awesome

Well I said I had a good feeling about this one and I wasn’t let down. I kind of wish I hadn’t watched the trailer, although there wouldn’t then have been that good feeling, but having seen the trailer the first twenty minutes or so of the movie is pretty much just that in extended form. We quickly get a glimpse of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) at high school struggling academically and socially respectively, followed by them both somehow ending up at police academy (even though it would appear a strange choice for Schmidt, but let’s say he has a prevailing sense of justice needing to be done). Then by some act of destiny they form a symbiotic friendship to pull each other through. And it even feels like a trailer, it’s all just laying the foundation for the real movie to start, the annoying set-up that is necessary but largely skimmed over, the greens before dessert. What it also does is establish the movie in a universe where logic isn’t too important and never comes at the expense of comedy.

Picture: hollywood.com
Best of friends, right? But how can you expect to be popular if you're trying to pull of the Slim Shady look? Picture: hollywood.com

Anyway, after a foolish mix-up with an arrest, the two agents are reassigned to the 21 Jump Street programme, where officers are used to infiltrate schools and such to solve youth-related crime. And it just so happens that there’s a new drug on the market that the young ones are really taking to, but which holds great danger for their well-being. So our two youthful looking cops get another shot at high school and almost immediately the movie picks up. For a start, Schmidt’s interaction with his parents is priceless. He almost immediately reverts back to a petulant teen and is great fun to watch. There’s also a picture of him on the wall that is no more than a throwaway gag, but which is hilarious.

And Channing Tatum isn’t far behind. His Jenko is just as enjoyable to follow, as the once streetwise high schooler is thrown back into a world that has shifted beyond recognition and where all the rules are now different. This soon dawns on him as they show up for their first day of school in a very effective scene that includes a cool little nod to hipsters, which I loved personally.

Now while I knew that Hill would be good and pretty much went to see it on the strength of his name alone, Tatum really surprises with his composed comedic abilities. The guy is actually really funny. So it would seem that he took a lot more from that tiny part in The Dilemma than anyone could’ve guessed. I might even go see The Vow now and show the guy some support.

Picture: pajiba.com
Just because you're trying to bring down a drug ring doesn't mean you shouldn't look sharp. Picture: pajiba.com

What also makes Jump Street work is that we’re given enough to care about the characters. It’s the simplest of formulas, but if it works it works. Schmidt and Jenko are confronted with past insecurities like only high school can bring out and their friendship is compromised by high school politics and there’s all the high school “drama” that keeps on compelling people to watch pretty much anything with teens on TV. (The fact that they’re undercover cops is largely forgotten by the audience and the leads themselves, which makes it so much fun and adds to why we like them, but watch out for when Schmidt’s cover is almost blown by a family friend!)  Credit to the actors for pulling off this more demanding aspect of their characters. Hill, that’s Oscar nominated Hill to me and you, is especially good at making it impossible not to like him as he tentatively engages with Brie Larson’s Molly in what is an affecting romance.

As if to reassure everyone in the audience that the comedy fraternity believe in this project, there’s a flurry of support from greats such as the always impeccable Chris Parnell, Nick Offerman in a delicious little scene as the chief, the very talented Rob Riddle, who just manages to stay on the right side of annoying, and a personal favourite of mine, Jake M Johnson, as the principal. There’s also the lovely Ellie Kemper who’s grossly under-used as the lustful Chemistry teacher but still very funny whenever she gets the chance. And, of course, the lovable Dave Franco who is always on form and very watchable no matter what you’re looking for. Also, Ice Cube sort of emulates P Diddy’s character in Get Him To The Greek with similar aplomb and, I almost forgot, there’s a very special, completely unexpected and cleverly executed cameo toward the end. But don’t bother looking for it, you won’t see it coming.

And clever really sums it up for me. It doesn’t reinvent the playbook or anything, but for what it is, 21 Jump Street is very clever. It’s always got its tongue lodged deep in its cheek, making fun of itself and the YouTube generation of teens in a very cool and satisfying manner. And even though I wasn’t LOLing at every single joke, I enjoyed it immensely throughout because there’s some really good comedy to be found – a scene in the bathroom in particular stands out and it’s not the usual gross-out fare, and also the Peter Pan play just has this one very neat, maybe silly, touch in which Schmidt evades Jenko. The house party and the freeway chase scenes work extremely well too in their entirety and are fantastically fun.

Yes, there’s some unnecessary childish stuff too, but then I’m not complaining too much. And the movie does kind of unravel toward the end with a boundless energy of someone on drugs that is probably over the top, but the stuff in the middle between the boring intro and ultra-stimulating outro is gold and I left with a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t quite Superbad 2, but I hope to see Jonah Hill in plenty more bromances and I would definitely come back for the inevitable sequel.

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Nothing to laugh at here, just pure quality

Material, headed up by funny man Riaad Moosa, is not a funny movie. Because, as we are told by his movie father Ebrahim (played by Vincent Ebrahim), “life is not a funny business”. And it does well to demonstrate this throughout with a well-told story that is heavy in tone with some fantastic emotional beats.

That’s not to say it’s not funny too. In Moosa Material has a perfect lead – his character Cassim is incredibly sweet and sympathetic and carries the movie perfectly. As a counterpoint to all the drama, Cassim’s stand-up material interspersed in the movie can be average at times, although it’s very culturally specific and may be forgiven by more lenient viewers. However, genuine laughs are abundant with Joey Rasdien on-screen, who is excellent in his supporting role as best friend Yusuf, providing an authentic and heartwarming friendship. Then, of course, there’s Vincent Ebrahim who delivers a big performance as the out-of-touch, stubborn and authoritarian Ebrahim. The granny many will love as well, although I found her to be quite annoying and the one fake character in an otherwise solid cast.

They're on a boat!

It’s almost impossible not to draw comparisons with Judd Apatow’s Funny People, even though the movies are obviously worlds apart. However, like Funny People, Material shows how comedy can become a subject of great dramatic potential and goes looking for real human emotion behind the laughs. Where Funny People exposes the tortured soul of a long-time comedian, Material highlights the torture of getting into the business to begin with. Cassim works at his family’s struggling material store in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, selling fabric to people in their small Muslim community, but what he secretly dreams of is making people laugh. But he has to keep it secret from his overbearing father who would never approve.

It’s incredible, only because we manage to live such culturally insular lives in South Africa, that you can go see a locally made movie such as this and feel like you could be watching a foreign film playing out in drab Delhi or something. And even though Material appears to be performing well at the local box office, I hope the strong Indian flavour of the movie hasn’t discouraged South Africans from other cultural groups to give this a go. It tells a universal story of aspiring to something different in life, facing obstacles on the way and making some very hard choices. And it tells the very South African story of how history and culture can have a very stifling effect on your life. Also to its credit, something that I want to see more in our films, it largely sidesteps the baggage of Apartheid in our cinematic tradition, although it is implicitly there and pivotal in the plot.

It’s not perfect, but for a local effort Material is truly impressive, firstly for its deft storytelling and secondly its slick production value. That depressing track is overdone slightly toward the end, making it feel unbearably sad at times. That being said, you end up missing it when it’s gone, because my biggest and only gripe really is that the ending is way too easily wrapped-up. Nonetheless, this is a really pleasing film as sweet as the character at its centre, and it bodes well for South African cinema.