22 Jump Street hits Australian theaters today, so here’s an early review of 21 Jump Street. Spoiler alert: we both love it.
21 Jump Street is one of the best examples of how to bring a classic television show to the big screen. The success of this movie is due in large part to the stars, but the real brilliance is in a script that both spoofs the original source material and shows genuine affection for it. This is like The Addams Family or The Brady Bunch Movie, just with lots of language and drug references.
This movie is way more comedic than the television series that inspired it, but I don’t think you could make a 21 Jump Street movie and keep the “after school special” tone of the original. The idea of youthful police officers going undercover as high school students just screams comedy. At the same time, Jump Street has the same sort of high school nostalgia as the TV show did. There’s a certain sweetness to the cops’ interactions with the students, especially as they go against protocol and begin to make friends. This movie may be different from television series, but they share more than just a premise.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are inspired choices for the undercover police duo. Hill’s character was an unpopular geek in high school, and Tatum a popular jock who often taunted him. When the two meet up years later at the police academy they become unlikely friends, helping each other graduate. After an unsuccessful stint as bicycle cops, the two are reassigned to a recently revived undercover division headquartered in a church on 21 Jump Street. They soon learn that they will be impersonating teenage students in order to find the supplier of a new synthetic drug being sold at a local high school.
The story really takes off from here, brilliantly playing up the differences between high school students now and those a decade ago. At one point Hill’s character comments that if he had only been born a decade later, he’d have been the coolest kid in school. I found this bit of the story incredibly inspired, because it’s so true. When I was in middle and high school it was still considered cool to not care about anything. Sports stars were worshipped and geeks were derided. So much has changed in the decade or so since I graduated that there are times when I wish I could have a do over. I would have been cool– or at the very least respected for caring about grades and art and the environment. The dynamic between Hill and Tatum when they return to school is perfect, especially Tatum finding himself now part of the unpopular crowd and not being able to handle it.
I guess what I really love is that this is one of the few films that convincingly shows that who you were in high school ultimately doesn’t matter. Despite having vastly different high school experiences, these two still end up in the same job. They may still struggle with some of the same things they did as students, but as adults they’re willing to set their egos aside and seek help from each other. When forced to switch roles while undercover, they are finally able to appreciate that being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and being a geek has its advantages.
When you are rebooting a popular television show or movie from a generation ago, there are two ways you can go. The film can either be completely faithful to the source material like the Charlie’s Angels films, or you can spoof it outrageously like The Brady Bunch Movie. 21 Jump Street goes the second route and manages to becomes one of the funniest films in recent memory.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as Jenko and Schmidt, two rookie bicycle cops who get asked to join a new undercover operation called Jump Street. They are sent back to high school to act as students, hoping to find the dealer and supplier for a new addictive drug. When they are back in high school, Schmidt and Jenko find their roles reversed from their first time through school. Schmidt is no longer a nerd, but a really popular guy, accepted immediately by his fellow students, while Jenko is no longer the popular jock. He is an unpopular reject forced to fraternise with the chemistry group. Together they must uncover the drug dealers before the new drug leaves their school and infiltrates others in the district.
21 Jump Street knows exactly what it is trying to be. The concept of sending mid 20s people back to high school to act as students is ludicrous and it is sufficiently mocked throughout the film. Both Tatum and Hill are mocked for looking at least 30. It was refreshing to see a film not take itself too seriously. 21 Jump Street is able to take this implausible plot and use it really well. The role reversal when Schmidt and Jenko get back to high school is so great. I could definitely relate to Schmidt being popular again. All of the things that were popular in the 90s are frowned upon today. A part of me has definitely wished that I could go to high school now and rule it.
This film wouldn’t work if the two leads weren’t willing to go all the way with this film. Tatum and Hill have terrific chemistry. I was really surprised with Tatum. He shows terrific comedic ability in this film. In most of his other work, Tatum has been not much more than a pretty face, but here he is great, and his chemistry with Jonah Hill makes the film work.
Spoofing a beloved 80s television show was a bold way to go for this film, but it works so well. Two leads with great chemistry and a plot the never takes itself too seriously make 21 Jump Street one of the better comedies in recent memory.