Rebooting 80’s TV shows has been so overdone in the past decade that it’s hard not to groan with every remake that’s greenlit, especially when the kind of films that have come as a result have often been far from stellar. After having already covered the bigger shows like The Dukes of Hazzard and The A Team, it seems studios are now plumbing the depths for movie ideas and the latest instalment in this subgenre proves that perhaps that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
21 Jump Street doesn’t carry the same weight of nostalgia as some of these other movie adaptations. The show was never as fondly remembered or as widely revered and its only legacy seems to be as the show that kick started Johnny Depp’s career. Free of those high expectations, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have turned this into a buddy cop movie that is sometimes thrilling, often hilarious and always fun.
A quick pre-credits montage introduces us to Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) in their senior year of high school back in 2005. Jenko is the classic jock; handsome and popular but dumb as a box of rocks. Schmidt is a chubby kid with a mouthful of metal and an Eminem hairstyle. A few years later, the two meet at police academy and become best buds, Schmidt helping Jenko study and Jenko helping Schmidt get in shape.
After an opportune drugs bust goes wrong, Jenko and Schmidt are reassigned to an undercover op in a Korean church over on Jump Street that puts youthful officers undercover in high school. Jenko and Schmidt are assigned new identities and sent in to infiltrate the dealers of HFS (Holy Fucking Shit), a new drug that’s catching on at the school.
Jenko is certain he’ll slide right back into his role as the popular guy but he soon realises that it’s not cool to be brash and not give a crap any more, instead the cool kids are tolerant and eco-friendly like Eric (Dave Franco), the kid who’s dealing HFS to students. Jenko finds himself hanging out with the science geeks in chemistry class while Schmidt is the popular one this time around, making friends with Eric’s girlfriend Molly (Brie Larson) and getting in with the cool kids.
This neat role reversal helps keep things fresh and there’s plenty of fun to be had watching the gigantic Tatum hang out with the chemistry geeks or Hill revel in his role as the popular guy. Of course there are the inevitable buddy cop plot beats along the way but the film lives and dies on the hit rate of its gags. Thankfully the majority of the jokes in the script (co-written by Hill and Michael Bacall) land, with highlights coming from the duo tripping balls on HFS, a running gag involving car chase explosions and the array of great lines already spoiled by the trailer.
The plot takes over from the laughs in the third act as it descends into generic buddy cop territory that doesn’t entirely fit with the overall tone but the good will the characters have amassed before hand carries it through as well as an obvious cameo given a clever twist. The newly slim Hill shines again in a typically sweet-yet-filthy role but Tatum is the surprise here. Usually coming off as nothing more than a lump of muscle on screen, Tatum loosens up and shows some impressive comedy chops. The supporting cast all do their bit, especially Ice Cube who milks a lot of laughs from the ‘angry black captain’ role (“Yes I am angry, I’m having a bad day and yes, I happen to be black”).
21 Jump Street has managed to avoid the pitfalls of remaking an 80’s TV show while also emerging as one of the better recent entries into the buddy cop canon. Tonally, it shares a lot of DNA with Pineapple Express and 30 Minutes or Less but is sweeter and lighter than both those films with enough laughs to keep you smiling through the slightly bloated run time.