Relative polar opposites on the surface (one is the raunchy-comedy update of an 80's cop show, the other an unrelentingly bleak ensemble drama about a loner substitute teacher with inabilities forming relationships), both form a tangible pairing as two films which depict a morally barren high school in ethical crisis, though admittedly in far different styles and genre. In 21 Jump Street, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play immature and profane police officers who infiltrate a high school to bust a drug ring operating from inside the school. The synthetic drug already has the majority of students as users, and at least one has died as result. With all humor completely stripped from the plot, this's no longer a comedy, but rather a depiction of crumbling society; a place where teens literally go to die. Detachment doesn't need any of its humor to be removed, as it was never there. Director Tony Kaye shows us the education system at its harshest and most brutal; shot almost in documentary format minus the talking heads, Kaye uses non-actors to play students to give emotionally honest scenes which could've easily been taken directly from a real urban high school. However, only one contains a "kick-ass" car chase, and at this point the two films differ to almost absolute extremes.
21 Jump Street (B)
A clever exercise in both homage and cynicism toward its 80's television origins, the chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, along with the general ensemble itself, prevent 21 Jump Street from being bogged down by the clichés and conventions the film attempts to satirize, but inevitably gets trapped in. Dual directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) fully acknowledge the idiotic idea of developing a modern version of the old television show, and have created a subtly fourth-wall breaking meta-movie; characters expect explosions during car chases, an angry black officer literally introduces himself as a stereotype, and an early monologue directly addresses that: "...the 21 Jump Street program is being revived because everyone's out of ideas, and nobody seems to notice when old things are repackaged". It's a movie designed to lightly parody cheap Hollywood cash grabs, and largely succeeds up until its third act. As the film reaches its conclusion, it's clear Lord and Miller are no longer satirizing, but now taking part in the action buddy-comedy clichés. The humor stops (other than a hilarious cameo you've without a doubt already heard about), and mindlessly dumb action and unearned melodramatics ensue. It's definitely a disappointing ending, but the first two thirds are pure hilarious entertainment. Funny enough to almost redeem the film.
An intense, bleak, and brutally realistic examination of the American public school system from the eyes of its struggling teachers, Kaye has directed easily the best film of 2012 so far, with serious potential of remaining in the position by year's end. Adrien Brody stars in this ensemble drama as Henry Barthes, a minor idealist working as an NYC substitute teacher. Unable to build relationships with others, he drifts school to school as a ghost; only willing to build slight friendships to those who desperately need them. Through his viewpoint, we see the chaos, hypocrisy, savagery, and vile cruelty infesting the student body, and how teachers are disrespected and ignored by their ungracious pupils. With compelling supporting performances by James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Betty Kaye, and newcomer Sami Gayle, there's not a single flawed performance in the pack. Detachment is a film that needs to be seen and discussed: A near masterpiece.