AccessReel Reviews – 21 Jump Street

AccessReel Reviews – 21 Jump Street

A pair of under-achieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.

Technically, the movie 21 JUMP STREET is a remake of the well-loved teen television series that ran from 1987-1991; the show that launched Johnny Depp’s career. You know the one – officers Judy, Doug, Tom and Harry were the baby-faced rookie cops who infiltrated high schools, carried out drug busts and generally poked their nose into adolescent social problems. However, 21 JUMP STREET the 2012 remake only occasionally touches upon its source material.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play the under-achieving cops, Schmidt and Jenko, who are unwillingly posted to Jump Street station as a punishment for their poor police work. The unlikely scenario they are presented with: a local high school is the only source of a new synthetic drug. Schmidt and Jenko go under cover posing as students and attempt to find the drug dealer and gang.

The familiar nerd-bro comedy formula has been packaged into a fairly standard cop-buddy action-flick.  The gun play and fights are averagely executed. The car chases are pedestrian (ha!) Hill co-wrote the original story with PROJECT X writer Michael Bacall and it calls upon the themes and tropes that Hill fans expect. Or to put it another way, this film is filled with the type of penis jokes and offensive punchlines that the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow taught us to love.

At its best, 21 JUMP STREET is a loosely plotted, easy-going movie punctuated with hilarious sequences ranging from the crude to the inventive. The film’s best comic idea is that the nerdish tendencies that made Schmidt/Hill’s actual high school years so awful are now fashionable; however Tatum’s character doesn’t find high school quite as easy as he did the first time around. In this way 21 JUMP STREET resembles a boy’s version of Drew Barrymore’s NEVER BEEN KISSED (1999) as much as the’ 80s TV series. 

Hill’s comic persona is as foul-mouthed and funny as usual, but less aggressive than in his other films. This is probably an accommodation for the romantic subplot contained in this movie. Channing Tatum is surprisingly good in his slightly-crazed jock role. I keep expecting his career to take the same trajectory as Josh Hartnett’s but another comedy of this calibre could mean a new range of roles for the beefcake actor. Dave Franco is excellent as the hipster rich-boy Eric. Brie Larson is winning as his sometimes girlfriend whom Hill’s character is attracted to. Ice Cube is hilariously and intentionally one-note as Jump Street’s angry black police captain. 

21 JUMP STREET isn’t for audiences wanting to relive the heyday of Penhall and Hanson, with the mullets and jean jackets and the bandanas and the “duelling Brandos”. Put that out of your minds. And it isn’t for audiences looking for a well-structured story and polite laughs. This movie is a fun, chaotic, dirty, unpretentious comedy that veers dangerously close to lazy in some places but usually redeems itself with a weird punchline or scene just as the slackness threatens to get out of hand. 

21 JUMP STREET is playing in Australian cinemas now. It runs for 109 minutes. I rated it 3/5.