Hill and Tatum revive a TV classic
New police academy graduates Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) get assigned 21 Jump Street – an undercover unit which sends youthful looking police officers into high schools. To investigate a dangerous new designer drug, the pair must head back to school.
For years now, Jonah Hill has been telling anyone that will listen that he’s working on his own version of 21 Jump Street and lo and behold he’s actually done it. The film is based on the 1980s TV show which catapulted Johnny Depp towards the megastar he would become.
The series was considered quite gritty and hard edged for a network show, dealing with issues like alcoholism, AIDS, homosexuality and drug abuse across five seasons from 1987 to 1991. This film version takes a very different tack.
21 Jump Street 2012 is an unreservedly R-rated comedy which sets up a pair of idiotic, if not downright dangerous, immature cops who are given the chance to prove themselves by shutting down a drug ring at a local high school. Hill has promised an action comedy in the vein of Bad Boys meets John Hughes and while neither element really lives up to those promises, it’s an entertaining enough venture.
Hill leads the cast and penned the script with Michael Bacall. Newly slimmed down (if still not exactly athletic) Hill does decent work – his comedy styling is a little less chaotic and wordy than usual and the script is often clever, even if the laughs are a little more infrequent than you might expect. Tatum is a lot of fun as the handsome dumb one – particularly his inability to cope with the notion that high school has changed so much that he’s no longer cool.
The rest of the cast is padded out with some solid comedic performers like Rob Riggle and The American Office’s Ellie Kemper – who plays the manic repressed one. For a change.
With little to tie it to the original series, the script has plenty of fun at the expense of the premise – mocking the obvious age of the protagonists and even riffing on the recycling of old TV series by movie studios. It’s not as ribald, or as consistently funny, as something like Superbad but the jokes are adequate and there’s enough energy in the piece to keep the audience entertained. And yes, there’s a cameo from Johnny Depp and some will no doubt find it hilarious.
21 Jump Street isn’t the best comedy of the year but plenty of daft moments and some game performers mean you’ll likely find some entertainment value. Fans of the TV series will find little to shout about.