Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Ice Cube
Release date: March 16th, 2012
Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 109 minutes
Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.
Worst part: The bare-bones sub-plots.
The perfect mixture of old and new; 21 Jump Street smartly caters to different age demographics by gleefully commenting on our high school years. Whether 14 or 44, the issues and cliches of high school life are highlighted in a reflexive, relevant and witty fashion. This adaptation of the famous 80’s TV series also works through the electric chemistry of its two popular male leads.
A flashback to high school in 2005 provides the basis for the issues of our two bumbling top cops. Schmit (Jonah Hill) is a nerd failing to find a girl for the prom, while Jenko (Channing Tatum) is an obnoxious yet stupid jock living the shallow life he loves. Years later, their bitter reunion comes with enrolment into the police academy. With Schmit an academic whiz and Jenko a lean, mean fighting machine; they work together to complete their police training and become the cops they desire to be. Their crazy, unprofessional antics however get them ousted from the force and transferred to an undercover division revived from the 80’s, down on 21 Jump Street. With an angry police chief breathing down their necks, they must go back to high school to find the supplier of a new synthetic drug sold by students before it spreads like a stupid Facebook message in the public sphere.
With an impressive writing, directing and production team under its belt, 21 Jump Street is a strong contender for this year’s funniest comedy. The direction by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) provides a consistent level of funny gags while finding room for a sincere fish out of water story. The comedy may be hit and miss at points, but what works are the consistent comparisons to high school life between the 1980’s, 2005 and present day. With a slick 80’s edge due to its TV show origins, the film subverts and conforms to 80’s action film and TV clichés; finding a way to make them both entertaining for younger viewers and hilarious to anyone aware of cheesy 80’s conventions. Cameos from two members of the original show, including one of the most beloved and dynamic actors in the world, are handled in a surprisingly effective manner. Its no surprise the script was co-written by Michael Bacall, co-writer of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as both films find a perfect relationship between believability, cultural relevance and insane fantasy. The stand out gag involving the many stages of tripping on hardcore drugs, provides several hilarious moments and the visual stimulus of ascending levels and pixelated colour patterns of an arcade video game. The screenplay also delivers when depicting the changing labyrinth and factions of present day high school.
“Hey, hey! Stop f*ckin’ with Korean Jesus. He ain’t got time for yo problems, he’s busy wit Korean sh*t!” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 21 Jump Street).
Providing suitable groundwork for this story of opposition and adaptation on evolved high school turf, the crazy vision provided depicts a world of environmentally friendly and study hardened popular kids and one type of culturally and technologically advanced hipster after another. Adding immensely to 21 Jump Street’s stock standard story are the performances and characterisations from everyone involved. It’s Hill and Tatum who wholeheartedly commit on every level, not only producing the film but playing on what their own lives may have been like in high school before their current popularity. With Hill’s acting and co-writing talents consistently proving worthy of his recent Oscar nomination, his influence on modern comedy pays off as this re- invigoration of the odd couple relationship provides strong chemistry and believable friendship between Schmit and Jenko. Tatum on the other hand, proving himself to be a very unconvincing actor in previous roles, silences his critics with powerful and charismatic comedic delivery as the jock turned imaginary lightsaber fighting science nerd. The supporting cast also provides a large amount crazy thrills and fun gags. Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper as wacky members of the faculty, Dave Franco (James’s brother) as the most popular kid in school and Brie Larson as the love interest all provide laugh out loud performances in their small roles. While Ice Cube is a comedic stand out as the Black police Chief strongly embracing his stereotype while encouraging the embrace of stereotypes in others.
Ultimately, the odds of making a truly successful 21 Jump Street adaptation are about one in a billion. However, in this universe, the odds have jumped up to two in seven billion. Our two shining stars make the most of this glorious opportunity and boost their once-ailing careers.