Review: 21 Jump Street

What was the point of making a “21 Jump Street” movie? No, really, why bother remaking or rebooting re-imagining a short-lived cop series from the ‘80s, especially when you’ve targeted your movie at people born long after it went off the air?

The way writer Michael Bacall along with Jonah Hill, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and anyone else with a creative hand in this movie answer this question earns “21 Jump Street” its badge of honor—or dishonor, depending how you look at it.

“21 Jump Street” is as monumental of a sendup as has ever been committed to film. It’s mere existence serves us a refreshing dose of Hollywood self-ridicule uncommon in today’s movies. Oh, and it’s really funny.

The film reveals its intentions early when Nick Offerman’s Dep. Chief Hardy assigns our heroes Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) to 21 Jump Street where they’ll be debriefed on going undercover as high schoolers, but not before rambling about how the higher-ups like to waste everyone’s time reviving dead programs from the ‘80s. Sounds like Hollywood in a nutshell.

Everything from chase scenes to the buddy-cop dynamic to explosions faces the satirical scrutiny of the filmmakers and Lord and Miller play it up to the point at which it can neither be taken too seriously or blown off as immature twaddle.

Hill and Tatum make a good duo, but Tatum’s presence in the film makes it fresh. Unless you subjected yourself to “The Dilemma,” you’ve never witnessed his comic prowess. His combination of bravado, idiocy and deep-seated social insecurity as Jenko make him a real hit. Hill also works the full range of smart and awkward to totally outrageous.

The script uses the brilliant device of having these two accidentally assume the high-school identity intended for the other, so Tatum has to hang out with the dorks while Hill must get in with the cool kids. A spot-on satire of how high-school kids have completely changed in just a matter of five or six years emerges here. Of our two high-school drug dealers, one cares a lot about green initiatives and the other is gay, which is not exactly in line with high-school stereotypes. At one point, Tatum profanely blames “Glee” for screwing up the once-Darwinian nature of the high school social hierarchy.

As for jokes, “21 Jump Street” piles on crude humor, though usually with more effectiveness than most run-of-the-mill R-rated offerings. Seeing as Schmidt and Jenko must track down the supplier of a new synthetic drug, the movie offers more than a couple instances of drug-trip sequences, namely one in which Eric (Dave Franco, James’ little brother) makes the two try the drug so he “knows they’re cool.” Given that the script explicitly states that the drug works in four main stages — one of which is “tripping major ballsack” — it builds up the humor more effectively.

Immaturity abounds in the film, but with a wink and a smile. Except for maybe an older, slightly more ignorant audience, few people will watch this start to finish and not realize the filmmakers are aware of the dumb and silly moments in the movie. You can even see through the awkward quasi-romance between Schmidt and Brie Larson’s character, Molly, because no one would find romantic catharsis in a budding relationship between a 25-year-old and high school senior.

Like most modern comedies, “21 Jump Street” has a number of misses in spite of its many successful laughs, but the majority of them work, especially because in painting this typical picture of high school, it adds a few fine details of what high school is really like these days.

Best, however, for those familiar with the TV show to divorce themselves from anything related to it, as the movie merely leeches off the name and premise, then tosses everything off to the side minus a few obvious in-jokes. It’s typical Hollywood, but the self-awareness of this phenomenally goofy comedy sets it apart from its peers.


4/5 Stars


21 Jump Street

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Written by Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson


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