There’s a scene fairly early on in 21 Jump Street that sets the tone for the film pretty much perfectly. It features Ice Cube, in movie-stealing form, talking about resurrecting old ideas and hoping nobody would notice, and generally sending up the idea of doing any kind of remake at all. Just as with their earlier film, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, you know pretty soon that directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord have you in safe hands.
In Cloudy, they opened their film with the title credit ‘A Film By A Lot Of People’. Here, they aim firmly at the line between breaking the fourth wall, and allowing a sly wink at the audience. They get it spot on, too, never allowing their story to cheat, but comfortably making sure that everyone’s had a good time by the time the credits abruptly kick in.
The concept is pretty straightforward, and relies on no foreknowledge of the source television series for it to work (with some welcome treats for fans). Jonah Hill plays the high school nerd. Channing Tatum plays the popular jock. The two of them end up training for the police, and for their first proper assignment, they’re sent undercover, back into high school, to get to the bottom of a mysterious, powerful new drug.
Only thing is, it’s modern day high school, where it’s suddenly cooler to be the sensistive, nerdy type, and straight away, this subverts the relationship between Hill and Tatum’s characters. The script, which Hill shares a story credit on, keeps things running quite tight, but still finds time for quality supporting characters, not least Cube’s police captain.
What’s also surprising is just how many good belly laughs the film generates. Hill and Tatum are at the heart of most of them, making for an unconventional but surprisingly strong double act. Tatum, in particular, demonstrates an aptitude for comedy that you may not always have got from him, and if the teased sequel happens, it’d certainly be a pleasure to spend another 100 minutes in the company of these two.
Lord and Miller are wise enough to know when to put their foot on the accelerator, with the film only really feeling flabby around one or two of the action sequences. Even then, though, they try and find fun wherever they can, playing with genre expectations. Still, 21 Jump Street remains on far surer footing when being comedic, rather than going for all-action action.
Perhaps the centrepiece is a quite brilliant amateur production of Peter Pan, which is one of the many surprises that the film holds that we’ve little intention of spoiling for you here. It’ll be instantly worth getting hold of the DVD at the first opportunity, just to relive the utterly bonkers final act again.
Back when 21 Jump Street was first announced, Jonah Hill was quoted as saying that he wanted an “R-rated Bad Boys type action flick with the wit and wisdom of a John Hughes film”. It turns out, it got a damn sight closer to that than you may originally have given the project credit for.
It’s one of Hollywood’s funniest mainstream films in years, and a textbook example of how to bring an old TV show kicking and screaming back to life.