By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
If they don’t send flowers, the filmmakers of 21 Jump Street should at least write heartfelt thank you notes to the creators of such television-to-film remakes as Bewitched, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Flintstones. Because next to these born-again bombs, 21 Jump Street is nothing short of terrific.
Even more surprising: Michael Bacall, screenwriter of the imbecilic Project X, delivers a decidedly funny script that occasionally dips beneath its silly surface, exploring the friendship and frailties of the two rookie cops who hope to earn high grades at their undercover high school job … um, once they’ve turned their homework in on time.
For those of you who are either too young to have seen it – or too old to remember – the original 1987-91 series was the brainchild of the late Stephen J. Cannell, prolific creator of such TV staples as The Rockford Files, The A-Team and Wiseguy. (Though the series is only one of many that Cannell created, it will forever be associated with its lead protagonist, nascent superstar Johnny Depp.) Both the old series and the new film are centered around the concept that two rookie cops, who look young enough to have to show their IDs when buying a six-pack, will be able to infiltrate a teen campus and bust its underground drug ring.
For onetime nerd/Eminem idolater Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and dumb jock Jenko (Channing Tatum) who, due to failing grades, was banned from going to prom and assuming his rightful title as Prom King, their wounded high school psyches are just beginning to heal. They’ve even become pals while attending the same police academy. But upon learning that now, seven years later, they’re going to have to return to the scene of their own emotional crime, is more unsettling than coming down with a huge case of teenage acne right before a big date.
Steeped in irreverent comedy, 21 Jump Street gives us an early, knowing wink when Ice Cube’s bellowing police captain explains the undercover program to his latest recruits: “All they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us not to notice!” However, the humor springs as much from the situations as from the lines, such as when Jenko imperiously coaches Schmidt on the correct way to shoulder a backpack — arguing for the cooler, one-strap look over the dorky double. It turns out he’s wrong: the double-strapped backpack nerds, who are environmentally aware and vegan, have become best in class.
While we anticipate a breezy, self-deprecating character from Jonah Hill – and he doesn’t disappoint – it’s Tatum’s sweet, goofy jock who throws us a new kind of curve ball. It’s the second time this year that he’s overcome his go-to role as the lumpy, moony star of the turgid romance drama, surprising us first with Haywire and now here, displaying a set of comic chops that work in a synchronous one-two punch with the brawn. Bravo.
Brie Larson adds an additional spark, ditching her usual portrayal of a sullen, misunderstood teen (Rampart, United States of Tara) for a pert, wise-cracking and unexpected love interest for Hill’s Schmidt. Believe it or not, they make a delightful match.
21 Jump Street isn’t without its cracks in the pavement: Car chases are too numerous, and too long, and the hellzapoppin’ third act could have used some editing. But all-in-all, with energetic direction from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, going back to high school — at least this high school — is sort of a blast.
Rating on a scale of 5 double Depps: 3.5
Release date: March 16, 2012
Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Screenplay by: Michael Bacall
Story by: Michael Bacall & Jonah Hill
Based on the television series by: Patrick Hasburgh & Stephen J. Cannell
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube
Running Time: 109 minutes