21 Jump Street

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

20 March

Lee Scratch Perry born, 1936

Today in 1936, Rainford Hugh Perry was born in Kendal, Jamaica. Often dubbed “Little Perry” in his early days in the music business in the 1950s, on account of his 4ft 11in (1.49m) height, Perry got his start selling records for Coxsone Dodd’s sound system, before taking charge of some production duties. A studio natural, and a master of falling out with people, Perry left Coxsone’s employ and started working for equally legendary reggae man Joe Gibbs, before falling out with him and starting his own label, Upsetter, in 1968. His first single, People Funny Boy (an attack on Gibbs) sold well, and was notable for its aural texture, its use of a crying baby over the intro and the presence of a slower rhythm than ska enthusiasts were used to. Perry had released the first international reggae hit. During the 1960s and 70s on his Upsetter label, and with his Upsetters house band (which included the Barrett brothers before they went off to join Bob Marley and the Wailers), Perry produced a phenomenal amount of sonically distinctive music, under his own name and those of other bands. In the 1970s he built the Black Ark studio, home of much of Jamaica’s dub music. A steadfast promoter of marijuana until he gave it up (“if you smoke ganja too much it can eat your brain cells”), he told GQ magazine that “my great grandmother was the high priestess and my godfather was Melchizedek, the highest priest that ever lived.” Present-day collaborators include the Mad Professor, Bill Laswell, the Beastie Boys, Moby and Danny Boyle.

21 Jump Street (2012, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

On the face of it a movie version of a 1980s TV series doesn’t sound like comedy gold but 21 Jump Street really is. Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as the babyfaced cops sent undercover into a high school, the film sticks with the TV show’s basic premise. Then it adds a twist – Jenko (Tatum) was a buff dim bully at high school and the focus of his tormenting was Schmidt (Hill), “not so slim Shady” (a sample taunt). Though neither is keen, they are forced into going along with the incognito mission to bust a synthetic drugs ring by their angry black captain (Ice Cube). He opens his introductory speech to them with the words, “I know what you’re thinking… angry black captain. It ain’t nothing but a stupid stereotype…” before pushing that stereotype so far it becomes hysterically funny, Cube ending his fusillade of ire with a magisterial, “So suck a dick.” Grudgeful, the two cops believe the gig is beneath them – though they’re clearly incapable even of mastering the easiest of official duties – but are forced to comply, arriving at the school to find that all the pursuits that were dweebish in their day have now become cool. Who’s interested in the environment, or being sensitive? “Fuck you, Glee,” is Officer Jenko’s (Tatum) verdict on the cultural shift.

This almost throwaway analysis of changing times (“I partied with Robert Downey Jr when he was fucked up and a lot of fun,” says Schmidt’s mother at one point) is one of the reasons why this film works so well. It adds another level of humour beyond the sensational one-liners trotted out by almost everyone in the cast. And on top of that there’s the physical comedy. Hill and Tatum’s drug-taking sequence, where they run through the various stages – giggling, tripping, super ability, super confidence, complete breakdown and sleep – is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years. So, yes, we knew Hill could do comedy. But it seems Channing Tatum can too.

Why Watch?

  • Cameos by Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, stars of the original series
  • Lee Perry’s Police and Thieves on a great, eclectic soundtrack
  • Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill’s very funny script
  • Ice Cube gets the biggest laughs

21 Jump Street – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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