Twenty-five years ago 21 Jump Street premiered on Fox– an action-drama about young-looking police officers who go undercover in local high schools and colleges to bust up crime rings, arrest bad kids, and generally keep the streets of Metropolitan City safe.
Twenty-five years from now the reboot, in the form of a Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum movie, may well be remembered as one of the funnier, more wall-to-wall entertaining movies of its time.
Wisely deciding not to emulate the gravitas of the original TV show, the filmmakers instead loaded it with plenty of winks and nods for the nostalgic, and then they let comedy rule the day.
Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are freshman recruits in the police department when they’re transferred (after a particularly egregious, and funny, failure involving a biker gang and Miranda rights) to 21 Jump Street. At the direction of Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), the pair goes undercover as high school students to find the suppliers and dealers of an ecstasy-like drug that’s running rampant.
When the guys make it to the high school halls, the humor comes fast and furious (both fellas look old enough to be substitutes, former nerd Schmidt has to audition for the spring musical Peter Pan, former jock Jenko has to figure out what ‘chemistry’ even means). And then, after finding the drug dealer, they’re forced to try some of the drug themselves, in the middle of the school day. Side effects ensue.
Hill and Tatum put the show on their backs and carry it all the way to the finish line. Tatum, especially, has finally proven that he can do something other than stand shirtless in the middle of a room and smolder. Dave Franco (yes, brother of James), Rob Riggle, and Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) are also a lot of fun in supporting roles.
Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) bring some much-needed originality and freshness to the tired reboot/remake ‘genre’, choreographing car chases and gunfights here with the same élan they give to quieter scenes like those between Hill and Larson. And the screenplay by Michael Bacall (Project X) is one of the most inventive and truly funny since Bridesmaids. Seriously, the guy finds bona fide comedy in stuff as varied as a stuffed giraffe, Fred Savage, and a snorkel.
The comedy does ramp up the raunch quite a bit (jokes about the male ‘member’ come early and often), but there’s plenty of smart humor, too, particularly the perfectly-written cameos for the series’ original stars, including Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise, and Holly Robinson. (Even Dustin Nguyen gets a second in the sun– his mug is visible on a TV during a third act shootout).
Sure, it could have been tightened up a bit, but that’s just being nitpicky. The simple truth is that 21 Jump Street is the year’s funniest movie so far.