’21 Jump Street’ Review
It was in 1993, watching Jim Varney, Rob Schneider and Dabney Coleman in 'The Beverly Hillbillies', when movie studios got the message that the black gold of adapting old television shows had dried out. No one ever asked for a '21 Jump Street' movie, not even, so it would seem, the movie itself. But with the stakes this low, '21 Jump Street' has the freedom to be self-aware but also – shockingly – deliver a buddy action flick that's so much fun you'll actually wind up caring.
Jonah Hill (Schmidt) and Channing Tatum (Jenko) were not friends in high school. Meeting later at the police academy, they discover that their powers of nerdy smarts and unfettered brawn (I'll let you decide which is which) compliment one another. They join forces and wind up with badges.
Hijinks ensue during their first bust (a high speed bike chase near a placid park lake) and the two find themselves getting busted down to a last chance assignment. A recycled old program (wink) from back in the 80s (wink) 'cause they think we won't notice that all they do is recycle old programs (wink wink wink). They are to pretend they are brothers and infiltrate a high school. Tomorrow they report to, well, you know the address...
Here '21 Jump Street' dives headfirst into its absurdity, with Ice Cube commandeering a Korean Church hideout and dispatching young(ish) looking fuzz to various youth institutions. Hill and Tatum's quarry is absurd (a new psychotropic drug causing kids to lose their minds) but it gives them, and us, an opportunity to give high school a second chance. A clerical error puts Hill trying out for the school play and Tatum in AP chem, but it may not surprise you that this ultimately leads our duo to exactly where the need to be, not just for the case, but to learn something about themselves.
Among the many recurring gags is how times have changed, even for the relatively young leads. Nerds are cool, bullying is out and two-strapping your backpack seems to be the accepted norm. While the police action does escalate, '21 Jump Street' never forgets it is a comedy. Despite Hill's very public weight loss, he maintains an empathy through awkwardness. (His mom just won't put those half-naked photos away.) Tatum's version of the jock-blockhead retains an immense charm. When he gets high and busts up band practice its some of the dopiest physical comedy you'll see all year. The friendship between these two seems real, and we're rooting for their bromance as much as them catching the bad guy.
'21 Jump Street' is a rowdy, profanity-laced film, but, I dunno, somewhere between the vomit gags and shot-off penises I found it to be rather sweet. The R-rating is earned, but it isn't lowest common denominator. There isn't much nudity or objectification of women (which seems to be rather en vogue for comedies right now) but there are gags about what kind of trucks are supposed to explode during a freeway chase and when.
I may have approached this movie with no interest at all, now I'm hoping to get a call to '22 Jump Street' (and, yeah, some of the jokes are so absurd I wouldn't be surprised if that were the sequel's name.)