’21 Jump Street’ review: Taking you to school, ‘80s-style
’21 Jump Street’ remake flat-out hilarious
“21 Jump Street,” a remake of the 1980s TV show starring Johnny Depp, utilizes a formulaic approach to reach the levels of hilarity it does. Instead of going the way of “Scary Movie” or following the afterschool-special style of the television show, “21 Jump Street” instead aggressively pursues a distinctly parodic feeling. It drops the warm, fuzzy feelings from teaching a moral or confronting social ills for crude, satirical digs at the aforementioned piety.
In short, it’s funny without being too offensive, it’s clever without being highbrow, it’s charming without being saccharin.
In effect, “21 Jump Street” is worth the price of admission and then some.
The movie, a blend of boy-comedy and friendship, merges the staples of the genre: homophobic humor so upfront it’s bashing homophobia itself, blatant segues into obvious jokes, appearances from your favorite sitcoms (including “The Office” and “New Girl”), exploding cars (or do they?) and even a “Glee” reference. The whole endeavor is messy and a bit chaotic, but it’s smart enough to work.
Two high school classmates — golden boy Jenko (Channing Tatum) and loser Schmidt (Jonah Hill) — meet up again at the police academy, where their friendship bridges the gap of stereotypical coolness. And though their skills complement each other, they both reek of failure and ineptitude as cops. So, thanks to their stunning ignorance, the men are placed in an undercover operation run out of an abandoned church by an angry captain played by Ice Cube. (Fun note: He’s on the movie’s soundtrack, expressing a rather jaded view of law enforcement in a song done by his former group N.W.A.)
The mashup of young and old demonstrates the gist of the movie: It’s an eternally deep grab-bag of ideas, most reflecting upon itself. There are the obligatory ‘80s and early-‘90s references and even some fantastic cameos from the TV cast of the old “21 Jump Street.”
Much of the humor stems from the societal changes that occur from when Jenko and Schmidt were in high school (2005) to their current environment (2012). Now, everyone is texting and sex-causal, eco-friendly and part of cliques that didn’t exist even last year. There’s a tolerance, a sensitivity unseen in real life, and Jenko (perhaps aptly) seems dismayed. “I blame ‘Glee,’” he says.
Heck, even some of the bad guys are the popular kids, a diverse, intelligent, college-bound teenagers, led by Eric (Dave Franco), who breaks social boundaries used by Jenko and Schmidt. He also deals drugs. (Though for some reason, this isn’t surprising.) Jenko and Schmidt are charged with infiltrating the drug ring and bringing it down before the synthetic drugs being sold spread to other schools.
The action eventually transitions from crazy high school antics to more action-movie status. Car chases and shootouts occur more frequently. It’s a mixed blessing. The action was well-done, but its necessity may have been overstated. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) don’t seem to be interested in setting up any distinctive action scenes. As noted from the beginning, the energy and humor come from Hill and Tatum, who at once exemplify and shatter their buddy-movie stereotypes.
Thanks to a flub-up, Schmidt is cast as the big shot at his new high school, while it’s Jenko who partners up with the nerds and losers. It’s not a fresh idea by any stretch, but the leads pull it off with some great comedic timing and an utter lack of shame. It’s even touching at times.
“21 Jump Street” may be a remake, but you would never know it. It revels in its lack of novelty and retrograde attitudes with such unbridled glee you will find yourself completely charmed. Here’s hoping for a sequel.
Four undercover stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.