Dir. by Phil Lord and Chris Miller - 1 hr. 49 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Going in, I was simply hoping that this would be as good as "Starsky & Hutch." Of all the TV show remakes, that represents the baseline of entertainment I hope to get out of these kinds of films. Often times, the only option for resurrecting these franchises is to turn the largely-forgotten situations into a comedy. There's no good excuse for digging up these corpses (which is the point of Nick Offerman's scene here, playing a police captain), but that doesn't mean that the result is legally required to suck. Thankfully, "21 Jump Street" understands that, and thankfully does not suck.
First disclaimer: I never watched the original TV show, therefore I do not have any nostalgia for it (nor any awareness of what may or may not have been borrowed for this updated version). I am aware that Johnny Depp was in the TV show with something called a "Richard Grieco," but that's as far as my knowledge goes. So let's get into the movie!
The set-up is simple: the two main characters are introduced in high school, where Jenko (Channing Tatum) is a popular jock, and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is Slim-Shady wannabe, considerably less popular. Post-graduation, they both end up in Police Academy, and strike up a friendship based on mutual need: Jenko is athletically-inclined but not very smart, and Schmidt is smart, yet not very athletic. They manage to get each other through, and end up partners as bicycle cops. When that goes sour, they are enrolled in an undercover program due to their young appearances, and they are placed into a high school where a new drug has popped up. Goal: infiltrate, and figure out who the supplier is. Once in the school, they find their roles have reversed since they were students: Jenko's bone-headedness makes him an outcast, and Schmidt's nerdy impulses manage to ingratiate him into the popular crowd.
There are a couple of things that make this movie work pretty well, aside from being pretty funny (if "The Sitter" was possibly the worst thing that Jonah Hill has done, this movie rests in the top half of his work). First, the role-reversal sub-plot is a solid one. By the end of the second act, Jenko gets a good taste of what high school must've been like for Schmidt, and Schmidt's sudden, unexpected popularity feeds his need for approval, to the point where he's willing to throw Jenko under the bus at the slightest provocation. It's a pretty honest look at that comedic dynamic: everything exists solely to feed popularity, and it feels a lot better than alienation. The other aspect that I really enjoyed was a sort of meta-awareness of the film: it's not oblivious to the absurdity of humping the corpse of an old TV show (the aforementioned Nick Offerman scene goes a long way in that service), nor the absurdity of the standard action tropes (Ice Cube plays Captain Dickson, an Angry Black Man, putting his famous scowl to great use, and there's great running gag about explosions, as well), but it doesn't let that self-awareness get in the way of a good comedy.
And that's the key point, this is a good comedy. Moreso if you're a Jonah Hill fan - there's a feast of his usual motor-mouthing and dick jokes, which I don't have any problem with. Channing Tatum is a lot of fun to watch as his character struggles with his movie-star good looks not getting the results that you'd expect. But he does learn a healthy respect for science, so not all is lost. The two characters work well off of one another, and this movie doesn't take much seriously other than zipping along and being funny. Those are pretty important things to focus on, and I was pleasantly surprised that "21 Jump Street" ended up being a lot of fun.
3.5 / 5 - Theatre