21 Jump Street review

21 Jump Street heads to the big screen, with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum headlining. Here's Ron's review...

Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) go back a long way. In fact, they knew one another in high school, where Jenko was a gifted athlete but an idiot and Schmidt was a classic wannabe nerd.

Seven years later, Jenko and Schmidt meet again, this time while standing in line at the police academy, in your standard buddy comedy meet-up. As they both soon find out, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Jenko is still a great athlete; Schmidt is still incredibly smart. The two decide that they should work together. Jenko gets Schmidt in passable shape while Schmidt gets Jenko to become a below-average (but not failing) student. So far so good.

Of course, just because the two complement one another doesn’t mean they’re somehow good cops. In fact, they’re the opposite: Jenko and Schmidt work themselves through the academy, only to become bicycle cops, where they promptly ruin an important investigation while trying to grab a little glory.

After being reamed by the deputy chief, the two detectives are promptly shipped on down to 21 Jump Street, where their new boss (Ice Cube) tells Jenko and Schmidt that they’re going to be going under cover as high school students. The goal of Jenko and Schmidt: infiltrate the dealers and their ringleader Eric (Dave Franco, brother of James) and then sniff out the supplier.

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For once, a movie explains why they have 30-year-old high school students! Unfortunately for the cops from Jump Street, high school has changed quite a bit from 2005. Can the two grown men adjust to the new reality for teenagers? It matters not, for the film sparks into life with some style.

There are a surprising amount of references to the original 21 Jump Street to be found here, and a few little meta moments commenting on the fact that this is a remake of an 80s television show in the form of a revived undercover program from the 80s, a brief passage which Nick Offerman knocks out of the park, as expected. Ice Cube, too, has a killer speech, pretty much guaranteed to bring the house down.

There’s also a ton of surprising nods to the original show. Granted, I don’t remember the original show too well, but even accepting that, I’m surprised by just what they brought in. Apparently, co-screenwriters Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Project X) are fans, or at least did a lot of research. They also has a ton of fun with various high school stereotypes, contrasting the early 00s with the early 10s for good comedic effect.

Still, aside from some vague plot points, this 21 Jump Street isn’t that 21 Jump Street, and doesn’t even try to be. This version is a straight-up action comedy, mixed with a little taste of high school drama for good measure. Think Pineapple Express: that’s the vibe 21 Jump Street gives off for most of its run, what with the drugs and guns and general craziness. Granted, at times it gets a little dumb, but it never fails to be pretty entertaining, even considering you’ve seen some of the good stuff in the trailer already.

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) prove to be a great fit for the material, too. There’s often an economy to how quickly they’re willing to get from A to B, and it’s much appreciated. They certainly know how to put together a strong comedy sequence, too.

As for the cast? Well, Jonah Hill is Jonah Hill. You know what he does and how he does it by now. He’s the profane funny one, with the brains and sarcasm and undercurrent of angst. As for Channing Tatum, he’s a pleasant surprise. He’s got good timing, makes surprisingly good faces, and gets some laughs with a good physical comedy streak. I have to say, I was impressed. I didn’t expect much, but my expectations for him were surpassed. Supporting players, like Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, and Nick Offerman, are generally underutilised, but still a lot of fun, and steal scenes when given the slightest opportunity.

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The action comedy is relatively new genre in cinematic terms, but it’s one that has been done fairly often in recent years. 21 Jump Street is certainly one of the better examples of recent times. It’s consistently entertaining, a bit too long, but generates solid laughts. And even though it’s light on plot, there’s a lot of fun things going on, and it’s a damn sight better than you may have been expecting. Recommended.

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3 out of 5