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21 Jump Street

A movie directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

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The TV Drama Gets a Comedic Big Screen Makeover

  • Mar 17, 2012
Star Rating:

21 Jump Street treads on thin ice in an early scene where it’s explained that the police department has revived a specialty division that started in the 1980s, that it’s part of a trend of resurrecting and modernizing old programs due to a lack of original ideas, and that they’re hoping the public won’t notice. Nothing threatens to ruin a movie faster than winking at the audience in a showy display of self-referential humor. Fortunately, the filmmakers had the foresight to get this out of the way as quickly as possible. The rest of the film is a surprisingly entertaining romp, one that has an emotional core despite being pervasively crude and at times highly violent. The filmmakers even work in two unexpected but very welcome cameo appearances. No, I won’t say who makes them.
Full disclosure: I have not watched a single episode of the original TV series. According to Wikipedia, it was a police drama in which young-looking undercover police officers infiltrated high schools and colleges to investigate crimes. Thankfully, that tidbit of information tells me everything I need to know. Although utilizing the exact same premise, this film adaptation has been transformed from a procedural drama into a raunchy comedy. You’d think such a drastic shift in tone would be fatal for this material, but in fact, it works fairly well. This is helped in large part by the casting of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who are not only individually funny but also rank as the best odd-couple pairing since Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in The Other Guys.

It tells the story of Morton Schmidt (Hill) and Greg Jenko (Tatum), who in high school were enemies and at polar opposite ends of the social and academic spectrums. One was bookish and nerdy while the other was an idiot jock. See if you can guess which one is which. They reunite in police academy and continue to exhibit the same traits that defined them as teens. Despite this, they become friends and soon graduate as partners. Sadly, their dreams of being badass cops on a dangerous beat are shattered when they’re assigned to park patrol. They think they finally have their chance at glory when they spot a group of drug dealers and attempt to take them down. Miraculously, they do arrest one of them. But because Jenko forgot to read him his Miranda rights, the department was forced to release him.
This lands both Jenko and Schmidt in hot water. As punishment, they’re reassigned to the revived 21 Jump Street division, located within an abandoned church and presided over by the perpetually angry Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). He explains the division’s purpose in much the same way I did a few paragraphs ago, albeit with many more obscene references to Oedipus. Schmidt and Jenko are to infiltrate a high school where a new synthetic drug is rapidly becoming popular. Their mission: Prevent it from spreading to other schools and discover the identities of both the dealer and the supplier. Hoping to ensure that their covers aren’t blown, they pose as brothers and move in with Schmidt’s parents. Let’s just say they have turned their house into an eclectic and somewhat frightening shrine to their son.

As the saying goes, wacky hijinx ensue. Schmidt and Jenko assume the wrong student identities, meaning the former will have to join the Drama Club and Track and Field whereas the latter has to take chemistry classes. They track down the dealer – an eco-friendly, racially tolerant, and highly popular teen named Eric (Dave Franco). They try the drug and experience a high unlike any other. In a complete reversal of their actual high school days, Schmidt becomes popular and even develops romantic feelings for one of his Drama Club classmates, a young woman named Molly (Brie Larson); at the same time, Jenko becomes an outcast and soon befriends all the science nerds, who are surprisingly adept at turning cell phones into surveillance devices. There’s even time for a frenetic car chase, a few more run-ins with the drug dealers Schmidt and Jenko tried to bust earlier in the movie, and several well-placed explosions.
What I appreciated about this film was that a real buddy story lurked underneath the foul language and disgusting sexual references. We really do get the sense that Schmidt and Jenko are friends, especially during the final shootout sequence at the senior prom. I also appreciated what I interpreted to be a commentary on the high school experience. If you had the chance to do certain things over again – say, finally working up the nerve to ask the girl you like to the prom – would you take it? Would you treat other people differently, knowing what you know now? The fact that 21 Jump Street even alluded to these questions shows that the filmmakers were thinking beyond the scope of teenagers with short attention spans. They wanted to make a movie that was both funny and insightful.


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April 02, 2012
I had a really good time watching this movie. Just posted my review on my profile; if you want to take a look. Good work.
April 02, 2012
It's funny -- raunchy comedies just aren't my thing, not even the good ones. However, there was no denying the chemistry between Tatum and Hill, and I appreciated that the filmmakers actually dug a little deeper with theme and characterization.
March 17, 2012
I was on the fence with this one since comedies usually are never a priority. But the trailers were good, and your review (along with several others) may just get me out of the house to see this one.
March 17, 2012
I'm generally not a fan of raunchy comedies myself, although I find they can be redeemed when the filmmakers work an actual theme into the plot. In my opinion, this was done with this movie. I think it's worth seeing.
March 26, 2012
Finally saw it this afternoon and I really liked it. Thanks!
March 26, 2012
As I said before, raunchy comedies really aren't my thing, not even the good ones. But I had to give it credit for its engaging story and the chemistry between Tatum and Hill.
March 26, 2012
that is part of why I allowed myself to be dragged to this--you don't like raunchy humor and yet you enjoyed it. It did something right. :)
March 17, 2012
Good pictures of some popular actors in the yesteryear.
March 17, 2012
I assume you mean Ice Cube, although Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are very much stars of today.
More 21 Jump Street (2012 film) reviews
review by . March 26, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Ok, let’s get some things out of the way. Usually comedies are a low priority for me to see in theaters. Why? Because they are usually more fun to see with a lot of pizza and beer. I am not too fond of Channing Tatum. Why? I dunno, I never cared for the roles he played save for “The Eagle”. Jonah Hill I can do with, after all, I need to see him in a role after he had lost all that weight. I am also not fond of movies that revamps a TV show, I mean they try to sneak this shit up …
review by . March 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
For all my readers who are unsure of where this movie came from you may not be able to appreciate Nice Offerman's role. As the police captain for rookie cops Schmidt and Jenko, played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum respectively, he tells them the department is reviving a program they used back in the eighties. This is just one of the many nods to both the industry and the source material. It was also one of the many laugh out loud moments of this movie. It is easy to be suspect of a movie …
review by . April 02, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    "21 Jump Street" is one of those comedies - one of those good, honest, thoroughly funny comedies - that appeals to at least two generations and treats them as its target audience. In this case, it's the adults and the older teens; and the title of the film will most likely mean something to the former and not the latter. In case you didn't know, "21 Jump Street" was a popular crime drama series that ran from 1987 to 1991. It's probably best known for kick-starting …
review by . March 29, 2012
I don't laugh during movies, which is why I was surprised I had to wipe my eyes from laughing so hard during the entire movie.  Jonah Hill is absolutely fantastic and Channing Tatum seems like he took some serious acting classes.  This is one of those movies where you will be able to watch over and over and quote for life.  I think this has to go into my top 5 funniest movies I've seen next to A Christmas Story and Step Brothers.  This movie is definitely worth …
review by . March 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Back in 1987, the fledgling Fox Network debuted, offering entertainment on Saturday and Sunday evenings aimed at a younger audience. One of the network’s first breakout shows was a police drama with young cops and plenty of action, a show named 21 Jump Street. The show featured a cast of largely unknowns who quickly bolted to overnight notoriety, most notably its star Johnny Depp who, much to his chagrin, became a pinup boy and sex symbol for the show. The show mixed humor, action, and romance. …
review by . March 13, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
'21 Jump Street' 'Two Jews On Film' One Laughs Alot...The Other Laughs...Not So Much (Video)
         By Joan Alperin Schwartz      What would you do if you had the chance to go back to high school and do it all over again?   Well, two bumbling rookie cops, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) get that chance when they're assigned to the long time dormant 21 Jump Street unit led by the perpetually pissed off Captain Dickson (Ice Cube)      Their mission:  Go back to …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #6
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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