22 Jump Street: How Jonah Hill Became An Action Man

Jonah Hill just might be the most important actor in Hollywood right now, here's why...
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Jonah Hill just might be the most important actor in Hollywood right now, here's why...

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Is Jonah Hill the most influential actor of the 21st century? Pish. Scoff. Nonsense. Maybe that’s what you’re all saying. But remember who you are, reader, sitting there in your pants with a packet of Pom Bears – that’s a child’s snack, reader, I once saw a baby literally throw the same packet on the ground 5 times, despite her father’s insistence that they were an adequate replacement for breast milk. Baby knew, so should you, so listen up.

22 Jump Street is out this week, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah ‘The Most Influential Actor of the 21st Century’ Hill reprising their roles as Jenko and Schmidt from the surprisingly good 21 Jump Street reboot. 22 Jump Street is essentially the same, a fact that is foregrounded very early on by drier-than-a-kale-crisp-but-not-nearly-as-fucking-gross Ron Swanson (I don’t know his real name, and I’m damned if I’m looking it up for you or anyone, all I do know is that the editor of this very site will look like him in about 30 years time).

Though marketed as a comedy, and rightly so given the high gag-ratio (gag as in laughs, not as in “Jesus Christ these kale crisps are the worst”), 22 Jump Street is essentially an action movie. It begins with a sequence that is as much fuelled by adrenaline as it is laughs, and hits a few similar beats throughout, managing to squeeze a Benny Hill joke and a Micro Machines reference into a pretty fantastic car chase – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller clearly have children’s nostalgia on the brain having cleaned up with The LEGO Movie earlier this year.

This is where it gets kinda interesting. Action movies are typically the place where movie masculinity, the apex thereof, is defined. Historically, action heroes are Steve McQueen riding his motorcycle, James Bond going through women at a rate of knots. More recently, Tom Cruise hanging off buildings, Nicolas Cage going properly bloody mental. They are hyper-men, men the average cinema goer wants to be, but could never be.

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Step in Jonah Hill. Chubby motherfucker. Regular face. This is the world we live in now.

When Jonah Hill became a household name after Superbad – hilarious and totally homoerotic – nobody could have predicted he would have gone on to work with Martin Scorsese and be nominated for two Oscars. His career trajectory had “fat foil” written all over it. But no! He’s an established actor now, he’s taken seriously in a way that, say, Seth Rogen probably wouldn’t be. Don’t get me wrong, Rogen’s a writer and producer and is clearly a big cheese, but it’d be bloody weird to see him in a drama, and when he tried to be in an action film… well, we don’t really talk about The Green Hornet do we?

What’s interesting then about 22 Jump Street is how Jonah Hill’s star power totally informs his character. He’s still a bit of a putz, and this works brilliantly as counterpoint to Channing Tatum’s frat-boy persona, but crucially, he’s the putz who gets the girl, the putz who saves the day. He’s the smart one. If this were the 90s, Channing Tatum would be the stronger of the two. But no, it’s 2014, the words ‘bromance’ and ‘man-crush’ are part of common parlance. We’re all supposed to like Bon Iver and The National. Jonah Hill is a leading man in an action movie. Jonah ‘I was a bit part in Garden State’ Hill. Imagine.

22 Jump Street is a movie that wouldn’t have existed a decade or so ago. It’s a product of the time in which we live, where nostalgia and self-referencing are in vogue, where existing tropes and genres are skewered and re-appropriated. It’s an action film for the meme generation. For some, it might grate, might seem too pleased with itself. For most, I think, it’ll hit all the right beats.

Follow Harry on Twitter, @CmonHarris