“21 Jump Street” is the big-screen reboot of a popular ’80s TV show, which featured youthful looking cops going undercover in high schools to solve juvenile crimes. And “juvenile” is the perfect word to describe this film, although I don’t mean that in a negative way.
Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) and Channing Tatum (“The Vow”) star as Schmidt and Jenko, polar opposites in high school, where Jenko was the popular jock and Schmidt the outcast nerd. Seven years later, they become friends at the police academy and work to help cover up the other’s weaknesses. Upon graduation, they’re assigned to pose as high school students to track down the source of a popular drug that caused a student’s death. But their roles are switched, with Schmidt welcomed by the new generation of cool kids who are sensitive and environmentally conscious, while Jenko’s forced to befriend the nerds.
The concept of adults returning to high school has been a bountiful source for Hollywood comedies, and “21 Jump Street” proves there are still plenty of quality jokes to extract from that well. The idea to switch the roles of the two leads is genius and results in many hilarious scenes. Hill is solid as the nerd who relishes his chance of joining the cool crowd, and Tatum is especially fearless in the way he embraces his character’s goofy dimwittedness. They are joined by a stellar supporting comedic cast, including Ice Cube as a stereotypical angry black police captain, Ellie Kemper as a teacher with the hots for Jenko, and Dave Franco as the tree-hugging ring leader of the cool clique.
Although the comedy is juvenile, the laughs come frequently and there’s humor for everyone, especially if you enjoy jokes of the penile variety. And that’s what ultimately appealed to me the most, the fact that it’s such a fun film. The buddy chemistry between Hill and Tatum really works, and you can tell that everyone on set had a blast making this movie.
The film also isn’t beyond poking fun at itself by acknowledging that it’s just another example of Hollywood’s lazy trend of rehashing material from the ’80s. This deliberate admission just adds to the film’s charm, and if that doesn’t confirm the film’s tongue-in-cheek tone, the parodies of action movie clichés will. There’s a hilarious bit where the boys wonder why large oil tankers aren’t exploding during a high-speed freeway chase and also shout-outs to action maestros John Woo and Tony Scott during the finale. A student asks Jenko at one point why he pictures white doves flying in the background (a John Woo reference) as he makes an entrance, and Jenko’s response is “because they’re so cool!” If that answer is good enough for you, then so is this film.
“21 Jump Street,” 109 minutes, is Rated R and opens in theaters today.
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