A film review by Craig J. Koban March 27, 2012
21 JUMP STREET
2012, R, 106 mins.
2012, R, 106 mins.
Schmidt: Jonah Hill /
Jenko: Channing Tatum /
Molly Tracey: Brie Larson /
Eric Molson: Dave Franco /
Mr. Walters: Rob Riggle /
Capt. Dickson: Ice Cube
screen remakes of small screen shows are so pathetically dime-a-dozen that
I’ve simply lost track over the years.
When it comes to film adaptations of past gritty police procedural
shows there are two distinct approaches that can be taken: (a) lovingly
and faithfully appropriate the show’s serious premise and overall tone or
(b) capture the essence of the show, but radically retool it as a broad
action/comedy that takes its once solemn material and imbues it with
some satiric energy. 21 JUMP
STREET largely adheres to the latter formula for adaptations.
to STARSKY AND HUTCH from a few
years back, this film version of the former late 80’s/early 90’s crime
drama – well known during its time for its grittiness and willingness to
tackle serious social ills – absconds from the dramatic gravity of its
antecedent and instead goes for all-out hilarity.
Taking a relic from TV’s past and slavishly re-capturing
its weighty self-importance might have come off as unintentional funny, so
the makers of 21 JUMP STREET have taken the logical creative course by
just making the film intentional hysterical.
It certainly respects the basic premise of the show (a squad of
young looking cops go undercover to investigate crimes in high schools and
other teen-centric hangouts), but 21 JUMP STREET seems to have a wink-wink
understanding of the sheer redundancy of movie remakes of TV shows while
affectionately lampooning teen and cop film conventions for maximum
of all, the film works splendidly as an amusing odd-couple picture.
The odd couple in question are Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing
Tatum) who are shown in the film’s breezy opening flashback scene as two
polar opposite high school students.
Schmidt is the prototypical nerdy and overly anxious outsider
that’s uncomfortable within his own skin, whereas Jenko is the handsome,
athletic, intellectually challenged, and popular-with-the-ladies jock.
The pair, once social rivals in high school, become very quick BFFs
while at a police academy several years later, especially when they
realize that they can help one another overcome their respective
challenges in the program (Schmidt needs guidance on the physical training
to become a cop and Jenko needs help in his studies).
pair do graduate and are hopeful for a career of being (as Jenko calls it)
“total badasses,” but their hopes are dashed when they are delegated
to boring bicycle patrol duty (“I really thought that this job would
have more car chases and explosions in it,” Jenko sheepishly deadpans).
After what should have been a routine bust of some drug dealers
that goes horribly afoul for them (largely because Jenko idiotically did not
remember to precisely read the perp his Miranda Rights), Jenko and Schmidt
are surprised when their boss re-assigns them for another job, the
"Jump Street Squad" named after the abandoned church located on
21 Jump Street that serves as the group’s base of operations.
the hapless duo arrives for the first day of their new assignment they are
greeted by their perpetually angry captain, Dickson (a never-been-funnier
Ice Cube) that takes great vulgar lengths to constantly relay how
disposable his new recruits are. He
explains to them that they are to go undercover as high school students -
because they supposedly look young – and infiltrate a student
drug dealer's inner circle, find out who his suppliers are and apprehend them.
They both are given new identities and are enrolled in classes that
would best suit their mental and physical assets, but an early mix-up at
school has them swapping identities: Schmidt is assigned classes
that would benefit a dumb-dumb like Gym and Drama) and Jenko is thrown
into courses like Chemistry and is forced to wallow with the class' high
the way, though, 21JUMP STREET kind of refreshingly works against high
school film conventions: part of the merriment in the film is
derived from Schmidt and Jenko adapting and beginning to like their new
friends and surroundings that they would have otherwise avoided like the
plague when they were high school students.
Things get a bit thorny for Schmidt when he becomes more popular by
the day and gets in close with the school’s chief drug dealer (played by
Dave Franco, brother of James, who has a slimy charm playing his
adolescent criminal that also happens to be a tree-hugging
environmentalist). It gets
even thornier for Schmidt when he becomes really close with the dealer’s
girlfriend (Brie Larson), who becomes a sort of surrogate high school love
interest that he never had before.
the films of Judd Apatow, 21 JUMP STREET is both aggressively raunchy and
obsessively foul mouthed while, at the same time, maintaining a sweet
sentimentality with the central friendship between its two main characters.
The verbal riffs come fast and furious in the film as it
progresses from one outlandish, profane, and seemingly spontaneous set
piece to the next. What the
film really does well is marry its coarseness and slapstick appeal with a
sly and subversive attack on modern action film clichés.
21 JUMP STREET fully acknowledges the sheer absurdity of the
overblown aesthetic of, say, a Michael Bay, as shown in car chase sequence
the heroes and a biker gang that goes to great lengths to have things
crashing into conveniently placed fuel tanker trucks and other highly
explosive obstacles…to only have no explosions occur (a fireball does
come when a vehicle comes careening into a truck of chickens).
Beyond that, this film also shrewdly sends-up how so many other
films use actors that are too woefully old to be playing high schoolers;
Tatum is 31 and Hill is 28, and school officials and other classmates they
come in contact with can’t seem to believe that they're students either.
The performances are also spot-on: I especially liked Ice Cube methodically playing up to every angry black dude police captain role we’ve seen so many times before (in reference to Franco’s drug dealer, he states, “This kid is white, so people actually give a shit!”). Jonah Hill – also serving as co-writer and co-producer here – has his reliably strong improvisational wits intact, but the real surprise is the typically mannequin-esque Tatum, an actor that typically has a range and thespian skill that traverses between middling to seriously lacking (he is sometimes so stoic and wooden in dramas that you have to remind yourself that he’s trying to be serious). Yet, in 21 JUMP STREET he’s so invigoratingly self-deprecating and just brazenly lets loose with a full-throttled, inhibitions-and-vanity-be-damned performance of frequent gut-busting joviality. Playing dumb and making it legitimately funny as well as endearing does take talent.
21 JUMP STREET may not win over die-hard aficionados of the old TV series, but as a breathlessly funny satire of teen high school angst and 80’s action film chic, it’s seriously enjoyable. It may perhaps go on far too long (it is 109 minutes, which is about ten minutes or so too long, even though our patience is rewarded with a surprise cameo by one the TV show’s stars during its fever pitched action climax, which – without spoiling anything – shows how the actor is a really, really good sport). Furthermore, the film contains some decidedly hit-or-miss gags and pratfalls, but its sheer comic energy and go-for-broke determination to make us laugh makes 21 JUMP STREET the rowdiest, most self-aware, and most consistently droll bromantic cop comedy since THE OTHER GUYS. Hill and Tatum may be, at face value, a horribly incongruent acting pair, but their oddball chemistry wins us over big time.