21 Jump Street Review

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21 Jump Street

Year: 2012
Rating: R
Runtime: 1 HR, 49 MIN

Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Nick Offerman, and Ice Cube

Film Rating: 3 out of 5

A movie based on the late 80’s 21 Jump Street TV series at first glance seemed like a disaster in the making. Hollywood’s track record for turning successful TV series into successful films is less than stellar and usually pleases neither audiences nor critics. Somehow against all logic, common sense, and prejudiced misconceptions 21 Jump Street took me by complete surprise and is a highly enjoyable action-comedy.

Two well meaning but underachieving Rookie police officers, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are transferred from bicycle patrol to the newly re-established Jump Street program. Their new assignment is to go undercover posing as high school students and track down the source of a dangerous new drug before it spreads to other schools.

Since when are Nilla Wafers a dangerous drug… since always!

I was five when 21 Jump Street premiered on FOX during the network’s first year on the air.   Until recently I was a 21 Jump Street virgin; all I knew about the show was its basic premise and it turned Johnny Depp into a teen heartthrob. In preparation for seeing the film version I sat down two weekends ago and started plowing through as much 21 Jump Street on Hulu as I could and definitely popped my cherry. To my great surprise I actually liked the show and I’m actually closing in on finishing the series. I’ll never have an emotional attachment to the show like I do with a show like Star Trek The Next Generation but I can definitely understand its appeal and why it still has a devoted following almost twenty-five years after it premiered.

The film version of 21 Jump Street bears little resemblance to the television series from which it gets its name but strangely enough the film works surprisingly well. Jump Street makes no qualms about being based on a rehashed program from the 80’s, quite the contrary is true as it often revels in it. Much of Jump Street’s humor stems from a constant barrage of jokes that lampoon the clichés of action films, the attitudes of today’s teens, and the concept of living too much in the past. While the humor is often very crude it never becomes cruel as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are consistently the pun of their own jokes.

Catching me completely off guard were the charming performances from Hill and Tatum, neither of whom are at the top of my favorite actors list. In the past I’ve found Jonah Hill to be amusing in supporting roles but in the spotlight I’ve found him to be annoying. Channing Tatum on the other hand has never done any work that I’ve felt has been compelling in the least. In the past I think I’ve referred to him as the acting equivalent of a wet paper sack filled with old newspapers but somehow in Jump Street his performance is at times surprisingly poignant.

The remaining cast consists of one dimensional character’s that are funny but never develop past being the second half of a joke. A great example of this would be Ice Cube as Captain Dickson; he rattles of swear words with the best of them but aside from him being their police superior and swearing nonstop there’s no complexity to his character. The same could be said of the film’s two female stars, the cool popular kid, and the bad guys all of which have some good moments but are severely undeveloped in the character department.

Leading up to the film’s release I was really worried about what kind of film 21 Jump Street was going to be after finding out that its screenplay was being written by Jonah Hill and Project X writer Michael Bacall.  Jonah Hill’s involvement didn’t worry me much since he’s essentially a blank slate too me in regard to his writing.  I was deeply concerned however by Michael Bacall’s contribution to the story since I consider Project X to be one of the single worst film experiences I’ve ever seen.  Thankfully, Jump Street is nothing like that garbage and only a few of the teenagers are scum instead of every teen in sight.

The directing duo behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Phil Lord and Chris Miller helm their first live action motion picture with mixed results.  While they are certainly competent they seemed to have a better grasp of the comedic aspects of film making than the action.  Some of that may stem from the over the top satirical tone of the action but I thought the comedy worked better than the action.  In the end the comedy is what’s important and the action is more of an afterthought.

There’s been a lot of talk concerning the cameos of the original cast members of the show.  Some of the cameos are easier to spot than others.  Holly Robinson (Pete) is easy to spot as Officer Judy Hoffs working in the motor pool that supplies Schmidt and Jenko with their muscle car.  Hiding in plain sight would be the best way to describe Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise with a couple of lingering camera shots giving them away.  One original cast member that is notably missing is Dustin Nguyen but I think he might actually make an appearance on a TV screen in the background near the film’s end… keep your eyes peeled and let me know what you think.  I would have liked to have seen a little bit more from Holly Robinson but overall I think the cameos were a great success especially considering how lame past cameos in TV to film adaptations have been.

I really liked 21 Jump Street which really surprised me considering I’m not normally a fan of adapting to TV shows into feature films.  21 Jump Street isn’t a perfect film; it could probably stand to be trimmed by a few minutes, the supporting characters aren’t well developed, and the action while over the top isn’t as well done as I would have liked.  The positives far outweigh the negatives however with 21 Jump Street being a rousing good time filled with almost non-stop laughs, excellent leads with believable chemistry, and despite my preconceived notions Jump Street turned out to be one of the best TV to film adaptations since the The Fugitive.

“Say Jump, 21 Jump Street”

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Written by

Nicholas Herum