SXSW FILM 2012
By Dave Campbell | March 16, 2012
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writers: Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube
Based on the original TV show by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell that put Johnny Depp in every Bop/Tiger Beat magazine from 1987-1991, 21 Jump Street introduces us to Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) back in their high school days. As total opposites, Schmidt is a nerdy socially awkward Slim Shady wannabe, while Jenko is the not so sharp lady killing jock that picks on Schmidt. Jump ahead several years and the two cross paths again…this time at the police academy. This time around the two opposites attract as Schmidt needs to train next to Jenko’s muscle, while Jenko needs the tutoring of Schmidt’s mind for them to be able to pass the physical and written exams and make it to graduation together.
Once that hurdle is passed their dreams of being the next John McClane (Die Hard) are soon crushed as the reality sets in that they are the new bicycle cops at the city park. After a botched attempt to take down a biker gang for drugs in the park, Capt. Hardy (Nick Offerman) reassigns Schmidt and Jenko to report to Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) at a special division on 21 Jump Street. Due to their remaining youthful appearances, the two go undercover as high school students to find the source of a new designer drug originating from a local high school. This time around high school has changed and the social stature of Schmidt and Jenko gets flipped on its head as they finally get to be the teenagers and cops that they never were before.
So…21 Jump Street the movie. The combination of my lack of passion for remakes (see: The A-Team, Transformers 2, Land of the Lost) and my (previous) adverse perception of Channing Tatum made the whole idea of this film existing a poor one, regardless of my fondness for Jonah Hill. My cynical attitude quickly changed as the usual stiff and unnatural Tatum had me laughing and savoring his presence just as much as Hill’s. Not only do I now appreciate his comedic timing and acting potential, but you could even consider me a convert in the House of Tatum.
Simply put, 21 Jump Street could have easily been just another stale ass action/comedy…but what a surprise. With the writing talents of Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and the multiple hat wearing Jonah Hill, 21 Jump Street is successful in delivering to both genres with entertaining delight. This film seizes all the things that shouldn’t make it work, even going as far to openly make fun of Hollywood with direct jokes about their absence of originality and apathetic approach to recycled ideas. The laughs are well earned and generated often with this buddy cop bro-mance, which very much differentiates itself from the TV version of 21 Jump Street. We also get treated to arguably the best celebrity cameos ever with Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, as directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller celebrate in the smart ways to “jump” an idea forward.