There’s a very nice surprise in 21 Jump Street that encapsulates the reason this movie is effective and enjoyable. I can’t spoil that surprise, but you won’t regret seeing this film.
Here’s a preview:
Released March 16, 2012
Written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, based on the TV series by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring Brie Larson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Holly Robinson Peete, and Chris Parnell
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In 21 Jump Street, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) start out in high school. Jenko is a dumb jock and Schmidt is smart and has made himself look like Eminem. This is why Jenko refers to Schmidt as “Not So Slim Shady”. So I’m a little confused, because that’s a clever nickname, but Jenko’s dumb. I don’t get it.
All of that aside, these two have the dynamics you would expect in high school: Schmidt’s awkward but academically gifted and Jenko’s physically confident but failing his classes. And so Jenko bullies Schmidt. This is brief, and then we fast forward to five years later when both are entering the police academy. They become friends so that they can help each other out, and the friendship blossoms. Yes, it’s a bromance.
As newly minted cops, they’re eager to kick some trash, but they are over eager and flub their first bust. Due to their young age and immaturity, they’re assigned to a reopened squad that goes into high schools undercover and takes down teen baddies. Watch for Holly Robinson Peete as Officer Hoff, the same part she played in the TV show. She has aged very well.
Now Schmidt and Jenko have to stop a dangerous new drug before it gets out of Sagan High School and infiltrates all of teendom. While doing so, they have to make sure they’re not expelled, have to get in with the high-school dealers, and otherwise have to blend in as teens. Due to a clever mix-up, however, Schmidt is mistaken for the fake ID that was made for Jenko, so Jenko’s signed up in nerdy classes and Schmidt’s supposed to be a track star. The double fish-out-of-water trick is pretty good.
Hi-jinks ensue and Schmidt falls for Molly (Larson) while zeroing in on Eric (Franco) as the main dealer in the school. During the beginning of the film’s climax, check if you see the fun twist coming.
21 Jump Street is a very clever, very self-aware film. Jonah Hill shows a real flair for dialogue and genuine comedy with this script. Every cliche of the original TV show is skewered, then exaggerated. Teenagers are depicted with some honesty, although it’s still bothersome that we have yet another Hollywood film that has decided all teenagers are 100% susceptible to peer pressure and that every teenager you know will drink like a sailor and throw caution to the wind at a party.
But this is a film of some caricature, which is shown from the start, so these depictions, including those of Ms. Griggs (Kemper) and the principal are forgivable.
Comedy is mined from every possible moment, and most of it stems from the characters and their motivations and actions– so it is natural and at times extremely funny. You will appreciate the time that directors Lord and Miller take to let scenes unfold and push the comedy to a higher, but also more fundamental, level.
That said, there’s plenty of low-brow, and in some cases uselessly crass, humor. The movie could have done without these moments. Schmidt’s parents are one example where real humor came from their doting on him as an only child and their approach to parenting, but stupid humor is forced by the idea that parents, when away from their kids, do amoral things too.
A quick note on acting: Hill pretty much plays himself. He does a fine job of having himself be the right character for the film. Tatum steps up with timing, physical humor, and overall a solid performance. He should get out of romance films a little more.
All in all, 21 Jump Street works because Hill and Tatum have great chemistry, the script explores authentic dialogue from immature post-teens, and it never takes itself seriously. It’s a buddy cop movie with just a little bit of heart, but a great deal of intelligence when it comes to adapting well-known source material. This source material, rather than being adhered to, is used a springboard for a new story with new characters, while still paying homage to the origin.
The film shows great affection for every trope it uses: action, buddy cops, teen movies, old 80s and 90s schtick, and modern culture. But then it also skewers those tropes, giving 21 Jump Street some actual meat.
Content warnings: Lots of profanity and references to genitalia, some violence, some drug use, some brief sensuality, some blood.
Writing: 4 Acting: 4 Overall: 4
I know YOU agree with me, but you should see if “reputable” reviewers do. Check it out on Rotten Tomatoes.
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