Who really expects a film modernization of a 80s television series to be anything less than mediocre? 21 Jump Street appeared to be another film making fun of its 80s roots and at its worst, it looked like a bigger budgeted version of the Nick Cannon film Underclassmen. Instead, a witty script and two hilarious leads make this R-rated version of the show the definitive version of teens today. The laughs are constant and the acting is great making it this one of the big surprises of my year!
Beat cops Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are best friends who used to hate each other in high school. They get recruited to join a program where cops masquerade as high schoolers and are told to find the supplier of a new drug. When they get there the two friends realize high school has changed a great deal since they went, and it might pull them apart again.
No one was more surprised than me when I sat down to watch this film. I’ve never watched an episode of the original series but that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t pay tribute with original cast members returning and a few other nods to the show. What everyone will be talking about is Johnny Depp’s cameo in the film which I knew was going to happen but I had no idea the character. You’ll want to go back to see the movie just to see his character before you figured it out, he ingrains himself so subtly into the background that only at the last second do you say “It’s him!” And it’s not the highlight of the movie. The script by Michael Bacall is hilarious and constantly filled with jokes. The movie needed the R-rating as none of the jokes are watered down and the additional F-bombs move this away from a fluffy teen comedy to a fun adult comedy. The one-liners are great and there are more than a few moments of characters being surprised at the real-life consequences of the action movie. Case in point is during a huge car chase where Jenko and Schmidt are prepping for cars to blow up en masse only to start getting mad when things aren’t blowing up. Other jokes even make fun of the movie itself saying that it’s trying to capitalize on the glory of the 80s. The self-awareness really sets this above other television adaptations.
The acting is what surprised me the most as I had no idea there would be a film where I liked Channing Tatum. Tatum and Hill have the best chemistry as both actors and their characters are fundamentally flawed. Hill’s shtick can become overbearing and his character is the typical nerd whereas Tatum is normally cited for being a terrible actor and playing the dumb hot guy. Here that all works to their advantage and both are hilarious. Tatum especially plays the dumb jock persona to the hilt here but peppers it with genuine comedic timing. Scenes where Hill and Tatum are riffing off each other sound improvised and there’s nothing funnier than the bromance they have for each other throughout the film (culminating in a scene where they try to make it each other throw up by sticking their fingers in each other’s mouths).
The only flaws are that most people have already made up their mind on whether to see this or not. A lot will depend on how closely you loved the original series. The film also runs a bit too long at an hour and 50 minutes. Once the typical “one of them is more popular than the other” storyline happens and Jenko and Schmidt go their separate ways the movie really slows down and the humor disappears. It comes back rather quickly but the 20 minutes of no laughs really seem obvious.
Other than that 21 Jump Street is a surprisingly hilarious ride. The cast and script are well-developed and the jokes are great. A must-see!