Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by: Michael Bacall (screenplay), Michael Bacall (story), Jonah Hill (Story)
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube
A pair of underachieving cops (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) become part of a special unit that embeds undercover cops in high school. Their mission; to blend in and covertly bring down a synthetic drug ring. Immediately, anyone who is familiar with the original 21 Jump Street is going to ask; “Why the hell is Hollywood looking to ruin another successful 80s T.V franchise with a cinematic adaption?” What’s exceptionally refreshing with 21 Jump Street is that the filmmakers and stars are on the audiences’ side. They are totally aware that it’s expected to be overly serious tripe; and instead use the overall premise to poke fun at its ridiculousness and ultimately make a film about getting the opportunity to relive your high school experience … but with way more doves and slow mo shooting.
We’re introduced to our characters while they’re still in high school. Jonah Hill’s Schmidt is an often bullied, frumpy, unpopular, nerd and Channing Tatum’s Jenko is the typical popular, stupid jock and bully. Fast forward to current day and they’re recruits for the police who help each other graduate (Hill brings the brains and Tatum the Braun). A ridiculous attempted arrest busts them down to the ‘Jump Street’ ranks.
Jonah Hill’s comedic sensibility is all over this role. He plays the kind of desperate straight man, down trodden getting a second chance. On the whole it’s a pretty safe performance. Channing Tatum goes back attempting to slot into his jock role and finds associating with the nerds and that ‘learning is fun’ this time round. It’s his first straight up comedic role and I really enjoyed what he brought to it. He’s kind of endearing as the pretty dolt.
The highlights in the film for me are totally (and I guess intentionally) bad recreations of the boys in their original high school days and their first trip back to school. My favourite moments in 21 Jump Street are these 90s guys trying to navigate their way through 21st century high school. It’s hilarious taking the paradigms of high school cliques that have stood since John Hughes and makes them laughably simplistic and ridiculous in the modern teenage context.
Once the boys have ingratiated themselves and there’s a slight shift to create (a semblance of) drama at which point 21 Jump Street loses some of the momentum. I realise that for textbook character/story arcs there’s a necessity to create a conflict between the characters but I felt that until that point it did a great job of not taking itself seriously at all. Fortunately it doesn’t last too long before the ridiculous and ‘piss-take’ humour is back in full swing.
The supporting cast are good at nailing ‘plot device’, generic characters with a twist. Ice Cube plays the unnecessarily and perpetually angry commanding official happy to point out the inadequacies and boyish looks of our protagonists. Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids) plays a mousy, quiet teacher that can’t keep her internal monologue under control around Jenko. A number of times she tangles her words and the results are increasingly propositional e.g. “Let me check out your chest… Let me check out your test.” Dave Franco is the Liam to Chris Hemsworth – younger but similar look but if you had more money/no schedule conflicts you’d hire the other one. Rob Riggle (the sadistic cop in The Hangover) is a lot of fun as the inappropriate P.E teacher; he’s got a bunch of really quotable lines and the most visually memorable and disgusting scene in the film (and no I won’t spoil).
21 Jump Street is nothing like the original series. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have a great chemistry and the strong beginning and ending do a pretty good job disguising the flabby middle. It’s crass, self effacing, ‘meta’, stupidity and it works.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman