21 Jump Street

16 Mar

21 Jump Street is the latest in a long string of movies based on television shows.  For those too young to remember, the tv version ran from 1987 to 1991.  Its premise was that a group of hip, young-looking detectives were matched up in a special task force (headquartered at the title address) and sent each week to infiltrate high schools or colleges to combat youth crime.  Nowadays, it’s known primarily as the launching pad for a young actor named Johnny Depp (though he’d previously been in a few movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and Platoon).

The new movie, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, follows a similar plot, though the main characters are not cream-of-the-crop police officers, but rather screw ups who can’t even handle a bicycle patrol.  Nemeses in high school, Hill’s Schmidt and Tatum’s Jenko find themselves in the same police academy class, where they combine their polar opposite skills to help one another succeed.

After their first bust is thrown out, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves reassigned to a task force that’s just been revived from the 1980s (the full description of which is almost worth the price of admission) and is based out of the abandoned Aroma of Christ Korean church located at 21 Jump Street.  From there, the duo are sent to pose as brothers to infiltrate the dealers and bust the distributor of a new synthetic drug that’s killed one student before it spreads to other schools and becomes an epidemic.  Of course, they can’t even handle their identities correctly, so former nerd Schmidt becomes a jock and “cool kid”, while former jock and cool kid Jenko finds himself in AP Chemistry with the geeks who view him with disdain and a randy teacher (Missourian Ellie Kemper) who views him with an entirely different emotion.

21 Jump Street delivers its share of laughs, and while much of its humor is crude, its largely inoffensive and even fleetingly clever.  The fact that both Tatum and Hill look too old to be high school students is acknowledged — probably too often, in fact — and is even used as a plot point.  Importantly, it doesn’t seem that the makers of the new film are making fun of the source material as having fun with it.   There are cameos by some of the actors from the original tv show (and at least one other shows up in another way), and some good comedic actors pop up here and there.  Hill is in comedy mode (as opposed to Oscar-nominated actor mode), and Tatum is actually better than I expected (not exactly high praise, granted).  I suspect that there will be at least one or two deleted scenes between him and Kemper on the dvd, along with some truly hilarious outtakes.

The movie isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it stacks up enormously well against the season’s prior “high school” comedy, the execrable Project X, and will probably be the number one movie this weekend, until the world is introduced next weekend to “the girl who was on fire”.*

As for me, I give it 5 Cheeseburgers

 

*Obligatory Hunger Games reference.

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