21 Jump Street
Directed by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Written by: Michael Bachall
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube and Brie Larson
When word first spread that the late-80s television relic 21 Jump Street was being adapted for the big screen, fans and casual moviegoers were asked to take a serious leap of faith.
The once popular-in-its-prime series that is known for launching Johnny Depp’s career ran for five seasons on Fox, putting a surreal spin on cop dramas: young officers go undercover as high school students to solve hot button crimes. The already-inaugurated MTV generation was more than ready to handle the show’s inclusion of hot button subjects like AIDS, sex and homophobia. What were the creators of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and real life meatballs Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum going to do with this Hollywood rehash?
Instead of following in the successful steps of its source material (the original series helped a faulting network gain a youth audience and respect for its social bravado), the reboot takes advantage of a new audience, hungry for intelligible YouTube and R-rated slapstick over thought-provoking rebellion. What it lacks in style and meaning, it makes up for in fast laughs and relentless humor.
The story partners high school foes Schmidt (“Oscar-nominated” Hill), a nerdy Slim Shady wannabe, and Jenko (Tatum), a big, brainless jock, who together form an unlikely friendship after needing each other’s support through police force training. After failing to crack a big bust, the two are assigned to the Jump Street division where they are to solve a drug case as undercover high school students because they are, as their squad leader puts it, “some Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus looking mother-fuckers.”
As outlandish as it is, we’ve seen it all before: Superbad, Never Been Kissed, The Other Guys. Low blow dick jokes and clichés never let up.
What surprisingly separates 21 Jump Street is its consciousness of these conventions, its pop references and its sincere attention to its characters’ sensibilities. Hill and Tatum as a duo are not only perfectly compatible, they’ve mastered their timing. A welcomed cameo by a surprising star and small role by the stone cold hilarious Ice Cube add to the fun.
Does the film deserve the same adoration its predecessor did decades ago? Probably not — but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good laugh when we’re given one.