Let’s make no mistake about this: 21 Jump Street should be absolutely shit. It’s based on an 80s American TV show which – while fondly remembered by some (especially considering that it was the show that Johnny Depp got his start on) – hardly set the world on fire. The story is as clichéd as the majority of Hollywood movies can get. Hell, even the poster has the stars pull a pose that’s been done a million times before. So it’s pretty amazing that 21 Jump Street turns out to be bloody brilliant.
But as they try and do their jobs and find the drug dealers and suppliers, they find that the temptation to undo the mistakes of their real school years too difficult to resist.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is your typical 90s high school nerd, into Eminem and detesting sports and popularity. Jenko (Channing Tatum) is your typical jock, all beef and muscle without much going on between the ears. Thanks to the usual forces that work on school kids in American movies, both miss the school Prom and their school years become a source of regret and a reminder of failure. Later they find themselves at Police Academy (no, not that one) and decide that becoming friends will help them get through training. They graduate as the best of buddies and work together as rookie cops but, after a bust goes wrong, they are sent to 21 Jump Street – a place for officers who work undercover. Due to their youthful looks Schmidt and Jenko are sent to a school rife with drugs where they must pose as students. But as they try and do their jobs and find the drug dealers and suppliers, they find that the temptation to undo the mistakes of their real school years too difficult to resist.
One of the reasons this works is because it’s hilariously funny. It runs the gamut from witty to spectacularly gross-out but with an underlying sense of intelligence that lets everything hang together. It enjoys playing with the action film genre (whilst gleefully sticking to the formula) and is obviously put together by people who love 80s action films whilst also recognising that they sometimes could be utterly terrible. Directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller (previously responsible for kiddie fare such as Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) stage numerous stand-out scenes including some brilliantly drug induced hallucinations, the duo’s various inept chases and many great moments with the requisite Angry Black Captain (copyright every mainstream action film ever) who runs 21 Jump Street.
They have some great chemistry and an excellent sense of comic timing.
The other triumph of the film is Tatum and Hill. Each have the requisite charisma to carry the film on their own but make for a cracking double act. Both play their nerd and jock archetypes well (and it’s especially crucial as much of the comedy arises in the fact that their roles are reversed when they get to attend high school) but make you believe that – despite their differences – their friendship is a close one. They have some great chemistry and an excellent sense of comic timing. Also, despite the general sense of anarchy and wackiness, there’s a genuine feeling of pathos and heart which is rare for such a film of its ilk.
There’s plenty more to enjoy throughout the film (including a couple of well played and clever cameos). Hollywood movies like this are usually dull and predictable: thank goodness that every so often they can surprise.
The DVD and Blu-ray is released by Sony Home Entertainment Television and is out now. It includes a shedload of extras including a commentary, lots of behind the scenes stuff and a really funny gag reel as well.
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