A Crude but comic spoof of the 80s show
Raunchy and profane by design, “21 Jump Street” is a nonetheless hilarious adult comedy that should come with a warning: “This film is nothing like the 80s TV show of the same name.” Sure, this very R-rated comedy has a similar premise, but the filmmakers involved here wisely went with a comedy spoof of the original series (which launched Johnny Depp’s career) while maintaining the undercover cops-in-high school storyline.
In much the same way that those involved with “The Muppets Movie” eschewed their R-rated film experience and stayed true to the family-friendly nature of Jim Henson’s original vision, the folks in charge of this new “21 Jump Street” demonstrate their versatility.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, responsible for the excellent family film “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” bring a similar frenetic energy to “Jump Street” and never belabor any of the punchlines or allow a joke to fester. Some of the best moments in the film are almost innocently silly. But perhaps the most valuable commodity of “21 Jump Street” is the chemistry between the two leads.
Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), here significantly slimmed down, and former model Channing Tatum (“Dear John,” “The Vow”) play guys who once were enemies in high school and now, a few years later, find themselves working together as rookie cops. Their first assignment? Under the supervision of a hilariously vile police captain (nailed by Ice Cube in the one performance that feels 100% genuine) the duo is assigned to an obsolete “Jump Street” unit that requires them to go undercover at a local high school.
Where once Tatum’s cool jock persona “Jenko” ruled the halls, while Hill’s wannabe rapper nerd “Schmidt” was regularly beaten up, the two, now fake students, find their roles reversed. Jenko’s homophobic bullying is clearly out of fashion, while Schmidt is the toast of his own wild parties and gets cast as the lead in a school theatrical production.
The best gags focus on this role reversal, so when the movie descends into formulaic buddy cop action flick it becomes less interesting despite a great bit about car explosions. It would have also been fun to see the rookie cops stay within the law while trying to win over the other students, but staying within its own parameters is usually too much to ask for this kind of comedy.
But for the first hour or so, “21 Jump Street” has guilty pleasure written all over it.
Rated “R” for crude and sexual content, profanity, some violence and the depiction of drug use and teenage drinking.