Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Action
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Ice Cube, Chris Parnell, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco
Co-Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs)
21 Jump Street was a popular cult TV show that ran on Fox from 1987 to 1991. The Jump Street unit was an undercover division of the police department that was comprised of officers that looked young enough to pass as high school or college kids. The show successfully appealed to a younger audience, and often taught moral lessons dealing with drugs, alcoholism, AIDS, and other topical issues. It gave rise to Johnny Depp, who became a teen heartthrob as Officer Tom Hanson.
In the new film based on the TV show, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are rookie cops assigned to Jump Street. The first 10 minutes or so has you rolling your eyes, and expecting a pretty awful movie. That is, until their superior office describes the Jump Street division to them. Paraphrasing, he says that there frankly aren't any new ideas left out there, so the top brass are just re-hashing an old program from the 80s, and acting like we can't see that it is the same old crap. The audience gets the joke, and once we know that the movie isn't taking itself seriously in the least bit, we're able to jump on board.
The film isn't trying to remake the original series, other than borrowing this premise. Schmidt and Jenko are assigned to double as high school-ers to bring down a popular new drug from circulating, by finding out who the dealers and suppliers are. Dave Franco, James Franco's younger brother, is one such dealer. Brie Larson plays a high school gal who becomes close with Schmidt.
There is a knowingness that high school has changed over the years, and as you would guess, much of the humor comes from these older dudes fitting in with a modern high school crowd. Schmidt was the nerdy virgin in high school and Jenko the popular dumb jock, but when their new fake identities are accidentally switched, they must act out the opposing identity.
21 Jump Street is a raunchy comedy that starts slow and then finds its rhythm. It includes many laugh out loud scenes, and is fueled by a strong supporting cast of hilarious bit players. Ice Cube is the angry black captain, who tells the Jump Street gang to embrace their stereotypes. Chris Parnell is among the best comedic actors out there never to have had a lead role, and he is tremendous again as a weird drama teacher at the school. Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper steal all of their scenes as well.
I always applaud comedies that don't take themselves too seriously, and 21 Jump Street knows that it is lampooning the original premise. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make a very entertaining duo, with Tatum surprisingly getting just as many laughs as Hill, who is the better known comedian of the two.
What was a pretty funny and enjoyably ride becomes a tremendous nostalgic treat for fans of the original TV series later in the film. To give it away would be to give away the best part of the movie. On another note, there are some familiar faces that pop up throughout the film, letting us periodically know that the film and the original series exist in the same universe.
21 Jump Street reminded me of Will Ferrell's cop comedy The Other Guys, which was a better funnier film overall. But both movies were able to find humor in playing against our expectations when it comes to action and chase sequences. You'll know what I mean when you see a chase scene that should have resulted in multiple explosions, only to conclude unexpectedly.
The film is unlike the original series in that there are no real morals learned. It is a pure, R-rated comedy. Teaching kids the dangers of drugs and alcoholism is soooooo 1990.
The filmmakers must have been confident in the material, as the end leaves us primed for a sequel.
You don't have to be a fan of the original to enjoy this version of 21 Jump Street, but if you are a fan, it will be worth the price of admission and then some, if only for a surprisingly well-written scene towards the end. You'll know the one.
Opens locally Friday, March 16th, 2012
Looking for a specific movie or review?