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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look51.22%
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Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 11 user ratings

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21 Jump Street
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by Brett Gallman

"A clever high school movie going undercover as a buddy cop flick."
5 stars

Even though we tend to chuckle at the ludicrous premise (and fashions) of the original “21 Jump Street” series, it was hardly a comedy; instead, it was about as hardboiled and gritty as a drama centered around young cops posing as high school students could be. Often tackling heavy issues like hate crimes, rape, murder, and even child molestation, it’s hardly the light viewing you might imagine it to be; in this respect, the delightfully irreverent and raunchy movie update is hardly faithful, and there’s a tendency (especially given the fate of many TV properties that have leapt to the big screen) to assume that everyone involved was looking down upon the original property as they prepared to laugh at it all the way to the bank. Make no mistake, though: this is a lovingly crafted tribute that respects the original series while shaking it up into a raucous but sweet romp.

The premise is obviously the same, as a pair of rookie cops named Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) bungle their first attempt at an arrest, so they get tossed into the recently revived program down on Jump Street, where they’re assigned to bust a drug ring at Sagan High School. Reporting to the school as a pair of newly enrolled brothers, they’re given a simple order: “infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier.”

Except it’s not so simple, as they’re easily sidetracked by acid trips and wild parties before getting tripped up by high school drama, and I get the feeling that “21 Jump Street” would have worked well even as a one-note spoof that played up the obvious disconnect between its protagonists and their situation. Though it’s only been five years since they’ve graduated themselves, they find a bizarro high school world that’s dominated by popular eco-conscious greenies, who have suddenly become “the cool kids.” And when it’s going for those sorts of laughs, it hits, as Michael Bacall’s script packs in plenty of outrageous moments that take full advantage of the film’s R rating. It’s often gleefully filthy, and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have just the right touch from becoming mean, even when Jonah Hill is assaulting a middle aged lady that threatens to blow his cover.

What’s great, though, is how Bacall, Lord, and Miller refuse to stop at that obvious point; turning this “21 Jump Street” into a broad, slapstick spoof of the original show might have been an alluring proposition, but these guys reveal themselves to be too clever for that. In fact, they’re in on their own joke and often bring the audience in on it; for example, when the Jump Street program is introduced, the chief (Nick Offerman) refers to it as being unoriginal and just recycling an old idea from the 80s. The concept itself isn’t the only thing from that decade being regurgitated, as it also updates 80s buddy cop tropes, right down to the often bombastic score, the exciting car chases, and the high-strung, loud-mouthed police captain (Ice Cube).

However, the most inspired update here is the 80s teen movie, and this is where “21 Jump Street” reveals a heart of gold to go along with its foul mouth. It’s expressly interested in its two leads throughout, as a prologue reveals where they were in high school five years ago, with Schmidt of course being the helpless nerd and Jenko being the jockish oaf that tormented him. From there, the course is charted, and one particularly brilliant shake-up provides the wrinkle that actually serves as the backbone of the film: upon enrolling, Jenko and Schmidt get their undercover identities mixed up, so these two get to see how the other half lived during high school.

So on top of being a buddy cop screwball comedy with high school drama, “21 Jump Street” kind of feels like a body switch picture as well, as Hill now gets to be the popular athlete who gets the girl (the incredibly charming Brie Larson), while Tatum gets stuck in advanced chemistry and is forced to hang out with the dweebs he once bullied. The former’s comedic talents are rarely in question; after the likes of “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” this is all old hat for Hill, who still refuses to sleepwalk through the proceedings (he also co-wrote the story here), and he’s as likable as ever as the dumpy underdog who finally makes good. Instead, it’s Tatum who unexpectedly benefits from the flipped script, as this very much isn’t old hat for him because he seemingly has a pulse. After being put into roles that have essentially reduced him to a grim-faced mannequin, he’s found a role that finally allows him to goof off, which he does admirably. Going against his type, he goofs off with nerds by engaging in invisible lightsaber battles and making “Superman II” references, and it’s a genuine revelation to see him have some fun.

Tatum is the surprising anchor to the film, as there’s no sense of condescension or stooping on his character’s part; we’ve seen plenty of high school films that bring jocks and nerds together, and “21 Jump Street” does that on multiple levels, and the chemistry between Tatum and Hill clicks from the beginning. Even when it hits the expected beats, it blasts through them and resists hackneyed, artificial sentiment. Instead, you have two guys whose interactions are so believable that they might as well be playing actual brothers. After only one outing with them, I’m already inclined to enshrine them with the likes of Riggs and Murtaugh as an all-time great buddy cop duo (and I’m typically loath to resort to such hyperbole). I don't think I've ever laughed and cheered this much at two cops merely reading someone their Miranda Rights.

If Hollywood must continue digging up old properties, every effort should aspire to be like “21 Jump Street,” a film that’s more ambitious and clever than you’d expect. It not only slyly updates its most obvious genre (the action comedy), but also the high school teen movie, which hasn’t seen an entry that’s this sweet and affecting since “Superbad.” This is a slick, smart film with two endearing leads and a host of memorable supporting characters, some of whom would be a gimmicky distraction if they weren’t worked into the plot in such a meaningful and hearty way.

Indeed, this isn’t the same “21 Jump Street” from 20 years ago; instead, it’s what the series would look like if Judd Apatow or David Gordon Green got a hold of it and injected it with a dash of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” as it has that same sort of bounce and nitrous-fuelled spirit that never threatens to run away with the genuinely emotional undercurrent. Wild, rousing, and witty, this division at "21 Jump Street" deserves more cases to tackle.

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originally posted: 03/17/12 12:53:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell very funny 4 stars
10/04/13 Trisha Wirt Love this! hilarious 5 stars
5/04/13 Charles Tatum Passable time filler, often scores some big laughs 4 stars
7/01/12 The Taitor Funnier than expected, worth a rental at best 3 stars
6/25/12 action movie fan fun rauncjy r rated comedy 3 stars
5/02/12 Eric Zimmerman on the same level as Superbad 5 stars
4/02/12 M Funny in parts .. overall silly 2 stars
3/22/12 Justin Venter I found this film very interesting. Good Review 5 stars
3/22/12 bert kaplan Dumb & silly but funny 3 stars
3/21/12 Luis Loved this move! 4 stars
3/18/12 Dan friggin hillarious movie, first movie with Channing Tatum in it I actually enjoyed 5 stars
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  16-Mar-2012 (R)
  DVD: 26-Jun-2012


  DVD: 26-Jun-2012

Directed by
  Phil Lord
  Christopher Miller

Written by
  Phil Lord
  Christopher Miller

  Jonah Hill
  Channing Tatum
  Ice Cube
  Brie Larson
  Rob Riggle

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