DIR: Phil Lord, Chris Miller • WRI: Michael Bacall • PRO: Stephen J. Cannell, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Barry Peterson • ED: Mark Livolsi • DES: Peter Wenham • Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Johnny Depp
21 Jump Street falls neatly into the category of ‘why?’ remakes – an iconic ’80s TV series turned into movie franchise brings to mind a disaster like Miami Vice. However, unlike other attempts to repackage the ’80s as relevant to modern times, 21 Jump Street uses the old series as a jumping-off point to create an original angle on an unoriginal idea. Two policemen going undercover as high-school kids is as hackneyed as they come, but by dint of some genuinely hilarious writing and top-class casting choices, 21 raises its head well above the parapet.
The two leading men, Channing Tatum as Greg and Jonah Hill as Morton, are misfit ex-enemies from high school – one thick but kind, and the other smart but socially inept – who end up best friends whilst training in the police force. Their early policing attempts play for laughs, one hilarious scene boasts them chasing a hardcore biker gang on push-bikes, and they find themselves pegged as immature and childish. Happily, these are the exact attributes required by the covert operations at 21, Jump Street, where Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson rules with foul-mouthed glee. They are assigned high-school detail to search for a new drug, and the sheer idiocy of this is never ignored, as students continuously comment on their obvious age – a comic tactic employed by this tongue-in-cheek movie as it takes itself not one-ounce seriously. Here they meet the super-popular gang – Greg, as ex- high-school jock and all-round cool kid, takes control of the situation, showing Morton the keys to maintaining status. However, in yet another hilarious scene, they are confronted by the fact that the ‘geeks’ now rule the school – led by Dave Franco’s Eric, an environmental champion who heads up the school paper and gets excellent grades.
Jokes abound in the comical mix-up of their identities, with Greg getting sent to the ‘smart’ classes, while Morton is expected to play for the football team, but there are some great action sequences too – culminating in a long-overdue epic explosion. Much has been made of the cameo appearance of the original TV series’ actors, but it is to the credit of those holding down the story up until that point that the appearance of Johnny Depp merely adds another comedic layer to a well-built structure, instead of upstaging them.
Despite the relative inexperience in the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the actors involved, (all of whom could at any moment steal the show), are kept in check, providing a seamless impression of teamwork and camaraderie that makes this buddy film. While by no means exceptional, the movie is lifted above the mediocre by its snappy writing, excellent set-ups and by the shockingly brilliant comedic talents of Channing Tatum – who manages to make Jonah Hill seem like the amateur. An escape to teenagehood, this stands as a solid comedic reimagining of a TV series that takes loving jibes at the original, makes fun of itself at all times, and overall delivers laughs a-plenty. An inoffensive undercover romp that guarantees a hefty giggle – just what this awards-heavy season needed!
21, Jump Street is released on 16th March 2012