21 Jump Street was one of the many iconic American TV shows of the 1980s, which launched Johnny Depp’s career. A series that wasn’t embraced in the UK, hence this re-adaptation doesn’t have the weight of fandom weighing it down in these waters. Here, 21 Jump Street is just another buddy cop comedy and that fact alone, isolated from its status as a remake, made this film a tiresome prospect prior to seeing it, especially when the advertising campaign makes it look like insufferable dross.
The directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Phil Lord and Chris Miller bring their eccentricities to a script by Michael Bacall. In which Channing Tatum and an incredibly thin Jonah Hill star as Jenko and Schmidt, two people who didn’t exactly see eye to eye when they were at high school together. Seven years later, they meet again at a Police academy and they quickly become friends. They graduate quickly enough and just as swiftly make a mess of their first arrest. Thankfully because they are both youthful men they are reassigned to 21 Jump Street to work undercover at a high school and seek out and end a new deadly, designer drug.
The programme at 21 Jump Street is introduced as something that has been rejuvenated by the men upstairs who can’t think of any new ideas, so they just bring back something from the 80s and hope no-one notices. That very line brilliantly introduces the film as something which has no problem breaking the fourth wall. Not only is the dialogue razor-sharp in its post-modernity, it is also well realised.
For a film to be both a police action piece and a high school drama would prove to be too much for many writers, Bacall however embraces both with a clever and hysterical script. Not only are the tropes of the police film satirised brilliantly, with a slew of running jokes like the tough black captain played with verve by Ice Cube or the recurring gag about explosions. Bacall also knows how the more traditional entries into the genre work for their rules to be subverted with such hilarious results. Equally, his interpretation of high school is equally exact through the constant morphing of trends therefore allowing the trading of places between Jenko and Schmidt.
Whether the script is well observed or not is irrelevant, the most important trait of any film is the story and its characters. The story is no more complex than any other police drama or buddy film, whereby our heroes solve the case and go through the usual phases of hardship, doubt and anger. Of less predictable stock are the comedy and characters, which both endear you towards 21 Jump Street.
Channing Tatum is a much criticised actor and in comedy he has found his place. Not only does he fully embrace the psychical comedy and play up his archetype, he also shows his capabilities as a dramatic actor. The same is true of Jonah Hill, even though his comedic credentials were never in doubt. He also looks like a different person shedding all that weight, which gives him the chance to be more psychical with his performance, spearheaded by a scene where he and Jenko practice being run over by cars.
The comedy leanings are sublime and will ensure this film has a dedicated fan base. The usual mark for a comedy film to be funny is about 6 or 7 laughs, 21 Jump Street reaches that landmark in the opening 20 minutes of its 109 minute running length. The opening third might be manically funny and it might never reach that zenith again, however that’s not a slight, the opening third is just that funny. Any film that makes me cry with laughter ensures it has a place in my heart. That 5 minutes sequence where Hill and Tatum have to take the drugs to prove themselves is the most I have laughed at a new comedy since Black Dynamite. I cannot understate how much I enjoyed this film.
However funny, 109 minutes might be a bit long for a comedy and the middle third might not flow as easy as the rest of the film, but this is a dark horse of a film that came out of nowhere and won over many. This is an excellent film, directed with a perfect balance of the surreal and the touching by its directors and a dazzling script by Michael Bacall. The comedy might not be to everyone’s taste and it might occasionally take the joke too far, but those who enjoy a weirder style of comedy will enjoy the hell out of 21 Jump Street.