21 Jump Street is the latest in a string of films based on 80s pop-material. The original television show starred a young Johnny Depp, and helped cement him as a star. The new film, however, stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The film was largely brought into light because of funnyman Hill’s love for the show.
Street follows Hill and Tatum as two police officer characters in their mid-twenties. The men went to the same high school and didn’t get along much (Hill was a nerd, Tatum was a jock), but now work together as partners in the field. After a screw-up on the job, Hill and Tatum are assigned to “21 Jump Street,” where they must go undercover as high school students in order to seek out the dealers and suppliers of a new drug. Going undercover allows the two to relive their youth in whole new manners (a mix-up actually allows for Hill to become a popular kid, while Tatum joins in with the unpopular ones) as they seek out the criminals.
While Street could have been reduced to a bad 80s remake, it isn’t such a case. It doesn’t try to be the show, but is rather its own thing with some nice nods made to the original material. Michael Bacall’s script (with co-story credit from Hill) is both funny and smart—and realizes a lot of “the ways” of modern youth without turning many of the characters into clichés. The film also comes with its share of irreverent and adult jokes, but never loses its friendly vibe at the same time. I highly admired Street in this respect, as it managed to embrace its “R” rating without ever really feeling mean-spirited at all—a rare feet for some “R” comedies these days. Street also understands its typical genre type and allows for laughs to be made about clichés that usually fall into such types—such as Hill expecting car explosions to occur and then they actually don’t, though they normally would in most films like this. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller deserve a lot of credit for displaying all of this well, with the movie never feeling cartoon-ish or overblown until the last few minutes.
Though I did enjoy the writing and direction, the movie really belongs to Hill and Tatum. Their pairing is one of those “odd couples” that shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to do so as the two have terrific chemistry. Extra kudos should go to Tatum for his change-of-pace role, proving to actually be quite funny (with some excellent deadpan moments). The supporting cast adds some flavor, as well, with Ice Cube hilarious as a police captain, Brie Larson very likable as a sweet girl that Hill comes to admire, and Dave Franco (James Franco’s look-alike younger brother) enjoyable as a drug-dealing but eco-friendly teen. Spoiler Alert: *Depp also pops up with an extremely amusing cameo appearance, reprising his role from the show.*
With abhorrent comedies coming out left and right, it’s nice when a good one comes along to liven things up. And that’s exactly what Street is: a good comedy. Sure, it comes with some needless chase scenes and a couple of ordinary moments, but it’s mostly hilarious and amiable. Among all of the 80s updates that audiences are getting as of late, Street definitely stands out as one of the better (and more entertaining) ones.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.