21 Jump Street Review
The first title screen in "21 Jump Street" reads the name of one of the film's production companies, "Original Film". That simple phrase drew snickers from the crowd in the movie theater, and that probably isn't a good sign going into a movie based on a 25-year-old television show. It was certainly unintended, as it just happens to be the production company's name, but it definitely made me, as a viewer, a little skeptical of what I was about to see.
The fall of original ideas coming out of Hollywood has been well documented in recent years, and it's seemingly getting worse. When 21 Jump Street was first announced, the internet let out a collective groan. If it wasn't the fans of the original show wondering how Hollywood would ruin their favorite television series, it was the regular moviegoers wondering why they had to basically siphon the name value out of a franchise for simple marketing purposes. After all, 21 Jump Street is nothing more than the tale of two 25-year-old cops going back to high school, why would they need the name of the original show to make it? Especially when you consider they were taking what was basically a cop drama and turning into slapstick comedy.
But you know what? They pulled it off. 21 Jump Street is not only a funny comedy worthy of its title (I assume, I never really watched the TV show), it's one of the best comedies that's hit the screen in the last couple of years that makes a point to pay homage to the title which brought it success, and not in any frivolous way. Everything I said about copying ideas and rehashing old TV shows, is pretty much forgotten quite early in the film. In fact, the film embraces many of the potential flaws it could have, and that not only makes it charming, but it pretty much eliminates those same flaws in an odd way. There's one particular moment of the film where Channing Tatum's and Jonah Hill's new captain, played by Ice Cube, basically tells them that he's an angry black man and that he'll spend the majority of his scenes yelling at them for their various screw-ups. And that's exactly what he ends up doing. But that's totally okay. The film tells you what it's going to do all the way throughout, but doesn't use that as an excuse to be lazy in its writing, and it's something special to witness on screen.
Another example of this is the explosions. There's a car chase in the second act where Tatum and Hill keep seeing things crash into other things that should be flammable, based on film logic, only they never get their explosion. Well, I don't want to spoil much, but at the end of the movie, when it finally comes down to actually pulling off that explosion, they really deliver, as they said they would, and they do that with everything else, from the action, to the surprises and the action sequences.
The film doesn't take itself seriously in terms of its subject matter. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (creators of Clone High, directors of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs") know exactly what they get themselves into with 21 Jump Street, and they don't let any of it get int the way of making a fun, lighthearted buddy comedy. But where they do take themselves seriously is in the execution. The action, the comedy, everything ends up working on any given level, and it's incredibly refreshing. It's funny, because based on most of the moving parts here, this really shouldn't be that great of a movie, and the hype and anticipation echoed that. You'd expect that fact alone to push the scores for the movie down, but instead, it's been meant with a great response from critics and viewers alike. Just about everything about the movie works.
In a movie like this, it all starts with the cast, and they pretty much nailed it. Jonah Hill is hilarious in just about any role you put him in, even if the overall movie isn't very good. He brings Channing Tatum up with him, who, let's be honest, isn't a very good actor. Tatum might not be that believable as a high school student -- frankly Hill might not be either anymore, he's not the fat kid from Superbad anymore -- but they make it work and it's barely even noticeable during most of the film. The chemistry between them is enough to make us look past the implausible nature of the plot. It's just two guys having fun, and there are plenty of scenes that reflect that. One major theme between them is that they consider each other brothers, as their undercover identities imply. Well, while the film makes a point to tell us they look nothing alike, and even goes to the length of switching their identities (a.k.a. Hill accidentally gets the one that's a good athlete, Tatum ends up being the one who's supposed to be good at science) for the sake of hilarity. All of this is moot thanks to the simple fact that Hill makes it worth with Tatum, and becomes much more about them as characters, and less about what they're characters do.
But beyond that, they have a great supporting cast to back them up. Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper, Brie Larson, the aforementioned Ice Cube, there are some good performances to talk about here. The only complaint I would have is the underusage of Ellie Kemper and Parks & Recreation's Nick Offerman, who only ends up being in one scene. Even beyond that, there are even some pretty epic cameos from the original series, one of which easily stacks up against any other cameo in this kind of film in a long time. I won't say it outright, but let's just say he was the star of the original series and is used to wearing funny costumes. His character (whether it's him or not in costume in earlier scenes) is present throughout the film, only to reveal himself at the end as one of the original cast members of the film in a great scene.
The film is great from a writing and directing standpoint as well. We already mentioned the lightheartedness that Lord and Miller bring to the table, and their ability to deliver on the action sequences in their live-action debut, but the writing is also solid from Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). You probably don't have to contribute much dialog when your cast is lead by Jonah Hill and includes the likes of Rob Riggle and Ice Cube, but the plot is solid, simple, and serves its purpose even if it could even up being a little implausible at times (again, this doesn't matter).
There's really littlee to complain about here. Everyone involved, led first and foremost by the man who's now proven to be a solid leading man in comedy, in Jonah Hill, comes together to deliver a solid comedy, one that's very worthy of being stacked up against the better comedies in recent years.
21 Jump Street gets 9 experimental drugs out of 10.