2012, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
In case you didn’t know, 21 Jump Street was a TV show created by Stephen J. Cannell in the late 1980s. I never watched it myself, although I know a lot of people who looooved it. I think they probably liked it so much because it featured nice-looking baby-faced actors playing cops who could, theoretically at least, infiltrate high schools and blend in as teenagers while conducting undercover operations. How cool is that!? Anyway, I didn’t discover Johnny Depp until the amazing Edward Scissorhands. Yes, that’s right, in case you’ve been living under a rock or a in a moon cave for the past 25 years or so, Johnny Depp was the heartthrob of a TV cop show before he made the big leap to the silver screen. (See how I resisted temptation to use the phrase “jumped ship” which would have called to mind not only 21 Jump Street, but also his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? You’re welcome!)
The only possible way to pay homage to the 21 Jump Street of 80’s television is to make it a parody, and that can be tricky. A good parody must pay homage to its origin story and also be gut-bustingly funny in a warm-hearted, nostalgic sense without going overboard and insinuating that the original was just plain stupid or lame – even if it might have been. The movie triumphs in that regard; it is not only hilarious, thanks mainly to the two leads, but also true to the intent of the original TV show – good-looking grownup cops getting involved with teenagers. (If that wasn’t the original intent of the TV show, I don’t care because I never watched it, as I mentioned already.)
So, getting on with the review… To paraphrase a description of the old TV show: “21 Jump Street is the address of the headquarters for a squad of police officers who specialize in investigations relating to young people. Each of the Jump St. personnel was selected for their ability to pass for high school students, allowing them to operate undercover in areas where it is difficult for regular police officers to blend in unnoticed.” That’s pretty much the same synopsis for the movie, except that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play two police officers who sort of… “complete” each other. Hill was a hopeless nerd and Tatum was a popular dumb jock from the same high school; they discover each other again at the police academy and help each other graduate to become inept police officers on bicycles. Not content with such a lame assignment, they are given a chance to prove themselves when transferred to the Jump Street squad. Hilarity ensues as they revert to their old teenage personas of nerd and popular jock but their undercover identities have them switched; Hill must play the popular guy and Tatum must be the brainy one.
Confused by the social cliques, attire, language, sensibilities, and just about everything having to do with teenagerness of current times, the two cops must find a way to work together to take down a drug ring operating out of the high school before its illicit poison can spread through the city and beyond. Along the way they will become a little too immersed in their fictional roles as teenagers.
Tatum and Hill are both superb in their respective roles, the supporting cast is excellent, the script is sharp and witty, the action sequences are both over the top spectacular and spectacularly uproarious. There is plenty here to help fans fondly remember the old TV show but for those who never watched it – like me – this movie stands on its own, never faltering as it hurtles its way to an explosive climax with a few welcome surprises along the way.
In a word, it’s FUNNY. Go see it.