Release Date (UK) – 16th March 2012
Certificate (UK) – 15
Running Time – 110 minutes
Country – USA
Directors – Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Starring – Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Brie Larson
The concept of a good, old-fashioned remake has morphed in recent years into multiple categories like reboots, re-imaginings, and updates of classics. 21 Jump Street fits into the latter category, fast-forwarding 25 years on the original TV series to see what might happen with the same concept in the modern day. For those who aren’t aware of the original concept, the police force create a special unit made up of officers who look young enough to go undercover as high schoolers. This division operates out of a Korean church on 21 Jump Street.
Officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are assigned to this division after messing up their first and only arrest thus far as police officers. They are sent to a high school where a new drug is spreading amongst the students and has already taken one life. While the TV show (which ran from 1987-1991) was fairly gritty and hard-hitting in its depiction of everything from drugs to child abuse, this film adaptation chooses to take the route of adult sophomoric comedy. While this choice will undoubtedly upset some fans of the show hoping for a faithful update, it works extremely well as a stand-alone movie. Much of the comedy is broad enough to appeal to teenage boys, but there are plenty of solid deadpan moments and sly references meant only for the sharp-witted.
The original series is remembered mostly for launching the career of young Johnny Depp, and this film version may prove to be the re-launch of the insofar spotty career of Channing Tatum. Up to this point, Tatum has been the muscle in a number of weak action films (The Eagle, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra) or the eye candy in sappy romances (Dear John, The Vow). Here, allowed to have a personality and crack a few jokes, Tatum is a delight to watch. He is an equal match for the more comically experienced Jonah Hill, who is just as much fun as the other half of this odd couple. The supporting ensemble is perfectly assembled; from Nick Offerman’s low-key Deputy Chief to Chris Parnell’s preening drama teacher, they all add just the bit of comedic momentum necessary to pull the story along. Perhaps the most notable supporting actor is the always reliable Rob Riggle, whose bonehead track coach, Mr. Walters, turns out to be more than meets the eye.
The audience learns the back story of the two main characters in a brief prologue. Essentially, Jenko was popular and Schmidt was not. Neither one bore any particular ill will towards the other, they just didn’t get along. That they immediately become best friends seven years later while in the police academy adds an element of sincerity and truth to what could have been another boring buddy cop dynamic. This is one of many wise decisions made by screenwriter Michael Bacall (who shares story credit with Hill). Another is creating a non-traditional group of popular kids. Rather than jocks and cheerleaders, it’s tree huggers and gay kids who rule the school. This new power shift creates unexpected paths for our protagonists in their second round of high school. It may not be realistic, but it sure as hell is more entertaining than seeing the same group of recycled characters trotted out once again. At one point, Schmidt exclaims: “If I had been born ten years later, I would have been the coolest kid in school!” At the center of the film is the idea that what you are in school means very little in the scope of the rest of your life. It’s not a profound message, but one that resonates clearly amidst the otherwise goofy tone of the movie.
For those who must know, there are cameos by some original cast members. If you don’t know by whom and when they happen, you won’t find those spoilers here. They are all so well-timed that it seems a shame to ruin the surprise. Strange as it may seem, this bawdy and brash update manages to honor the source material while completely modernizing the delivery. Only those who hate to laugh should stay away.