21 Jump Street (Sony/Columbia)
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence.
Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ice Cube, Dax Flame, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Jake M. Johnson, Nick Offerman, Holly Robinson Peete.
Written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, based on the TV series by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell.
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
If you've read any of my reviews over the past 2-3 years, you'd know how often I lament how much unoriginal crap Hollywood studios churns out on a weekly basis. It seems no studio is willing to green light anything that isn't based on a best-selling book, a previous movie, or an old (and usually crappy) old TV show. There are countless examples of this trend, with movies like My Favorite Martian, The Green Hornet, The Brady Bunch, Charlie's Angels, Dragnet, etc. Some of these retreads are hits, but most are misses. I wan't very hopeful when I heard Jonah Hill was involved in the movie version of 21 Jump Street, a barely successful show from the late 1980s that launched Johnny Depp into stardom (or at least teen heart throb status).
Hill co stars with Channing Tatum as two guys from the same high school who enlist years later in the police academy. Hill plays Schmidt, a brainiac nerd in his high school days who was one of the many victims of Jenko (Tatum), a jock bully. When they reunite at the police academy, they form an alliance as Schmidt helps Jenko with the book smart stuff, while Jenko helps Schmidt with the physical training. They both pass, and become partners in the local police force, only to find themselves in a less-than-desirable detail, roaming a public park in bicycles.
When the duo botches a drug arrest, they are reassigned to 21 Jump Street, an undercover program where officers pose as teens and embed in high schools to thwart drug distribution. Schmidt and Jenko are assigned by their new captain (Ice Cube) to pose as brothers and live with Schmidt's parents, while trying to find out who is supplying the school with a new synthetic drug.
The guys try to assimilate into high school life, but soon find out things aren't the same as they used to be. Through a mix-up, the men assume the wrong personas and end up in the wrong kinds of classes among high school cliques that opposite of their previous experiences. This time around, Schmidt gets to hang out with the cool kids, while Jenko ends up with the nerds.
Schmidt gets close to the school's drug dealer Eric (Dave Franco, James' brother) and Eric's close friend Molly (Brie Larson). Schmidt even gets a little romance going with Molly and lands the lead in the school musical, as Jenko learns a few things about chemistry. The "boys" get into a fair amount of trouble as they try to crack the case, which ends up in a huge chase and gun battle with the school's "real" drug dealer and a biker gang cartel.
The trouble with most of these TV show-to-movie remakes is that they either try to hard to make the film version better than the original, or they forget what made the TV show popular in the first place. 21 Jump Street threw all of that out and went all-in on spoofing how ridiculous the premise of the TV was, exposing stereotypes and lampooning them quite effectively. Some of the movie's funniest moments occur as the main characters embrace the ridiculous nature of lame cop shows (my favorite: Ice Cube's portrayal as the "Angry Black Police Captain" seen in so many other shows and movies). There are plenty of other satirical moments that audiences will find equally appealing.
Another particular great moment happens for fans of the original TV series as pretty big cameo treat occurs just before the end of the movie (I hope I didn't telegraph that too much).
Jonah Hill's performance is actually a little more subdued than in his previous films, which allows the comedy to flow around him to 21 Jump Street's ensemble. Channing Tatum's performance is one of his best, and proves he do more then the mushy romantic and action hero roles he's known for. There are times when Tatum is actually funnier than Hill.
21 Jump Street is one of the funniest movies I've seen in a while, and it should do well among audiences who liked Bridesmaids and The Hangover. 21 Jump Street earns its R rating with plenty of bad language, drug comedy and violence, so keep the kids away.