I don't remember the 1980s TV series 21 Jump Street being a raunchy buddy comedy, and the fact the big screen adaptation re-imagined the '80s cop drama as an R-rated comedy had some fans crying foul. For some, it was bad enough Hollywood had once again shown a lack of originality by mining the world of '80s TV shows as fodder for a film. But to take the series and make it into an R-rated comedy? That's pushing it too far, right? Wrong. In a show of hands, who was leery of 21 Jump Street the series redone as a feature film? Yes, my hand is raised, making it very difficult to type. But, it turns out 21 Jump Street made the jump to the big screen as one of the funniest, most entertaining comedies of recent years.
Writers Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill were smart enough to address with their script how ridiculous it is that Hollywood relies so heavily on remakes. They were also smart enough to realize that A) they only had to pull the very, very basics from the series into their film, B) their target audience is probably younger than the audience that watched the show during its 1987-1991 run, and C) as long as the film entertains, the dreaded 'remake' label will ultimately not matter.
The 21 Jump Street series helped make Johnny Depp a star (or at least set him on the track to becoming one) and while it did have its occasional funny moments, there are very few similarities between it and the film it inspired. The series found a unit of cops going undercover in high school, as does the film. In the movie, it's Channing Tatum as 'Jenko' and Jonah Hill as 'Schmidt' who, as rookies, head back to high school after showing their lack of real police skills (Jenko can't remember more than the first few words of the Miranda Rights, Schmidt doesn't have the physical prowess to take down the bad guys). Their assignment: nab the dealers who are selling the latest designer drug, HFS (for holy f**king sh*t), to students.
Jenko was a stud in high school while Schmidt was a G-rated version of Eminem, but when they re-enroll as brothers, the tables get turned. Schmidt transforms into the popular guy and Jenko is the outcast, which totally flips his world on its head. And as they become more involved in their new classmates lives, Schmidt kind of loses sight of the whole point of their undercover mission and it's Jenko who keeps an eye on the prize.
The Cast and the Bottom Line:
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill could quite possibly be the best new buddy team to emerge since Will Ferrell and John C Reilly scored success with Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. It's as unlikely a pairing as you'll find, but for some reason Tatum and Hill absolutely click on screen. And directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller - the guys behind the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs animated film - did a terrific job with the supporting cast. Lord and Miller brought in Ice Cube to play the gruff police captain in charge of the Jump Street unit (he even explains that he's the very stereotype of an angry black police captain), Rob Riggle to play a high school coach who has a hilarious encounter with Schmidt and Jenko after they're forced to try HFS, Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) as a high school teacher who's hot for Jenko and who can't seem to stop making sexual references in his presence, and a couple of cameos that had the audience nearly on their feet.
A great cast, a surprisingly fresh and funny script, and the best non-explosion action scenes on film combine to make 21 Jump Street one of 2012's best comedies. And, yes, I realize it's only March, but I feel safe in saying now that this one will remain on our Top 10 Comedy Movies list for the remainder of the year.
21 Jump Street was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence.
Theatrical Release: March 16, 2012
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