Channeling a quirky coolness completely devoid in the original TV series, 21 Jump Street brings on the laughs. It might be a remake of a TV series that hasn’t aged well, but star Jonah Hill and the filmmakers behind the camera took the basic concept of the original series and turned it into a contemporary action/comedy that delivers.
Despite a heavy reliance on dick jokes, the self-referential humor in 21 Jump Street gets the job done and then some. There are enough inside jokes about remakes that the audience feels free to forgive the title of this film, and the fact that it technically is a remake. Instead, one is free to revel in the hysterics, hilarity, and great action sequences of a film that stands on its own.
Perhaps the reason 21 Jump Street works so well is that is it delightfully aware that the original TV series is impossibly out-of-date. Looking back at Fox’s 80s TV series about young-looking cops who go undercover in a high school, you realize it’s just silly (despite starring a very young and hot Johnny Depp). So filmmakers give plenty of nods to the original, while packaging it for modern audiences too. They also use this self awareness to poke fun of not only themselves, but Hollywood’s lack of originality, remakes, sequels and modernizations.
The plot is simple enough, two immature cops get sent back to high school undercover in order to bust a drug ring. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, two polar opposites who went to high school together but were definitely not friends. Fast forward a few years, and they meet up at the police academy and strike up an unlikely friendship, Schmidt’s insecure nerd playing against Jenko’s dumb jock.
Schmidt and Jenko, attracting attention from the police brass because of their unprofessional flub-ups at work, are sent to a secretive operation at the address 21 Jump Street, which turns out to be a dilapidated church housing the headquarters of a mod undercover operation headed by the loud and intimidated Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). Though they think the assignment is going to be walk in the park, everything that can go wrong seems like it does.
There’s a clever kind of fish-out-of-water tale paralleling the main plot, as Schmidt and Jenko return to high school and find things have changed quite a bit since their time. The 20-somethings find the kids today aren’t as easy to fit in with, and as Jenko tries to infiltrate the cool crowd, he finds his brand of “cool” is nowhere to be seen.
This film is stock full of fun cameos and comic heavyweights. Hill helped create/write the story, and his brand of funny is stamped everywhere. His cowardly geek is the perfect foil to Tatum’s oafish action hero. Hill and Tatum light up the screen with their comedic chemistry, and funnyman Rob Riggle adds humor heft with his take on the stereotypical gym teacher, Mr. Walters.
The direction, handled by the team that brought us the 2009 animated family film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, had a freshness and fun to it that improved an already well-written script. Phil Lord and Chris Miller proved they can take on live action films with 21 Jump Street, and some of the most effective funny moments in the film come from creative graphics (animation) and visual manipulations.
All in all, I was taken by surprise when I watched this movie. I didn’t think much of the idea when I first heard it; remakes in general don’t get me too excited, and remakes of “meh” 80s TV series especially don’t. But this movie (yes, despite all the dick jokes) was genuinely one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. They only took the basic concept of the original series, and used it to create an action/comedy that is not only palatable to modern audiences, but appealing as well.
21 Jump Street is one of the year’s funniest films and if you’re looking for a good laugh, check this one out.