When it comes to buddy police comedies, we have seen our fill of action versus comedy. The chemistry between the leads can be just as vitally important to the movie as the story or the jokes themselves. Without the right mixture, the film can be perceived as a parody or a spoof. With “21 Jump Street,” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller hope to use their backgrounds to find the right amalgamation of action, comedy and characters and prove that the story was worthy of the leap from a popular late ’80s TV show to the big screen.
In high school, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) couldn’t have been more different. Schmidt was the book smart nerd who wanted to be popular and was terrorized by jocks like Jenko. Seven years later, they find themselves at police academy together and conceive that combining their opposite talents they can help each other strengthen their weak points.
After graduating the academy, the two mishandle their first arrest and are reassigned to a program that puts young fresh-faced cops into high schools to help solve crimes while undercover. They are sent to try to uncover a drug ring that is peddling a newly-manufactured narcotic at a high school, but an identity mix-up puts Greg in the advanced classes and Morton in the mentally deficient ones and each must quickly adapt to their new roles without blowing their covers.
Once at the school, they realize the attitude and styles have changed so much over the years that what was once cool is now seen as imbecilic and cruel, while smart is the new sexy. With some leads, Greg and Morton believe it’s the popular rebellious teens who are selling the new drug at the school, so they throw an epic party to befriend the group, including Eric (Dave Franco), the leader of the group, along with the hip Molly (Brie Larson) and their two lackeys Zack (Dax Flame) and Juario (Justin Hires). Once firmly in the group, the officers must find evidence to link them to the crime and find out who the supplier is, all while evading a biker gang that they have angered. Morton and Greg will have to break all of the rules, try not to get too involved in their new identities and go to outrageous lengths to solve this case and catch the bad guys.
The original “21 Jump Street” is now most famous for playing a pivotal role in launching a young Johnny Depp’s career. But the show was more than that. It tackled current events and involved them in the show. While this film is lacking in the social and political messages, it more than makes up for it with a surplus of jokes and by mixing slapstick with action with a bounty of pop-culture references. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny — and I don’t have that reaction much, so I was surprised by not only the absurd situations they get themselves into, but also the banter between the characters.
The movie hinges on the dynamic between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and even though they don’t appear to be the kind of guys who would be friends, they pulled off some witty repartee that worked for this buddy comedy in ways I never expected. A major standout was Tatum, who to my knowledge has never done a comedic role such as this and with the help of his hilarious co-stars pulled off a great performance. Jonah Hill was funny as usual and you could tell he was comfortable in the role — he wrote the story and is an executive producer of the film — and worked his magic to meld together his style with those around him. The supporting cast — including Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, Chris Parnell and Nick Offerman — was equally splendid. Also in the cast is Holly Robinson Peete, who was on the original TV show.
Bottom line: This movie is a hysterical throwback that will have fans of the original show laughing while creating a new generation of fans who will probably demand a sequel (which has already been commissioned). It is quirky and not completely realistic at times, but it is a fun movie to watch. “21 Jump Street” is the funniest film since “Superbad” and will be a movie other comedies will be compared to in the future.
“21 Jump Street” is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and violence.
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