21 Jump Street (2012) Review

For the cops who work the Jump Street beat there’s just one aim: to infiltrate the seedy underbelly of the American high school, weed out the criminals, and preserve the safety of our teenagers. Too bad looking the part just isn’t enough when you can’t evolve past the mentality of a 17-year-old. Such is the case in 21 Jump Street, a fresh take on the 80’s TV show with the same title, this time starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. While fans of the original show may not find much to relate to in this 2012 release, there is still enough outrageous humor and a hip sense of self-awareness to make it an enjoyable trip back to school.

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are two former high school classmates who survived the trials and tribulations of the Metro Police Academy. Currently partners serving together, the former classmates have moved past the differences that separated them as teenagers. Now best friends, they spend their shifts cruising on road bikes through the park and fantasizing about a big bust that’ll take them to the top. When they botch an opportunity to bring down some serious thugs and earn some respect, they’re sent down to 21 Jump Street for undercover duty. Their new CO, Captain Dickson (an exceptionally angry and loud Ice Cube) tells them that since they look young and stupid enough, they’ll be posing as students to infiltrate a local high school and bring down the distributor of a dangerous new drug. It’s not even lunchtime on the first day when the plan starts to show cracks. After accidentally switching their own fabricated personas, Jenko and Schmidt’s true maturity level shines through. While the duo may be in their thirties, it’s clear that they still have yet to grow up. Soon, busting drug dealers takes a back seat to being cool, hitting on girls, and having parties. Of course, the seriousness of their case comes back to bite them, and they soon find themselves having to tend to emotional wounds that have never fully healed and be good enough cops to take down the local kingpin.

The makers of 21 Jump Street have found something genuinely hilarious in the story being told. Rather than try to remake the drama that persisted in the original series, they’ve made a borderline parody, full of self-referential humor and contemporary trendiness. It works well, and it makes this one really stand out from the crowd of other remakes in theaters. Screenwriters Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill have woven in an unexpected absurdity, which both mocks the premise of the film and helps to make it believable. A huge part of the success here is due to the acting of both Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill himself. Their chemistry is prevalent, as is their level of comfort and sense of timing as a comedic duo. Quickly reverting to petty immaturity and high school habits, their interactions together are the best parts of the film. Tatum is an especially pleasant surprise, conveying a knack for the comedy that is unexpected. He’s both making fun of his own character and of those around him. Lone gone are Jenko’s glory days as a handsome bad boy, now he’s regarded as an awkward weirdo forced to hang out with geeks. Tatum clearly revels in it. Hill is as funny as ever; playing essentially the same character he’s played in his other successful comedies. Gone is his nuanced performance that earned his Oscar nod in Moneyball, he’s back to his balls-out comedy roots that put him in the spotlight to begin with.

21 Jump Street treads the same ground as other recent comedies, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Audiences can expect the same kind of kinetic stunts and outright violence that’s been seen in the Hangover and Tropic Thunder. It’s still a blast to watch, and big set pieces like a mid-movie car chase and an explosive climax lend a blockbuster feel that seems hysterically out of place. 21 Jump Street also succeeds by not depending too heavily on special effects and stunts alone. Utilizing some serious star power in its cameos, it maximizes the potential to create some of the funniest moments in the movie. The Office and Bridesmaids alum Ellie Kemper, and perennial nut job Rob Riggle turn their small bit parts into absolute scene-stealers.

21 Jump Street is an undeniably good time at the movies for some, but it may leave certain audience members feeling left out. If you’re in your post-college graduate limbo you’ll find plenty to relate to in it. The humor will seem more relevant and the jokes more topical. People who actually remember the show might wonder what the movie has anything to do with the original besides a title and a few (brief!) cameos. That being said, there are still plenty of laughs to be had, and clever writing and genuine enthusiasm from the cast make this one of the funnier comedies of the year. If you’re the kind of person who likes their low-brow humor to come dressed in modern irony, you won’t find much better right now than 21 Jump Street.