Jack Gillespie’s “21 Jump Street” Review

Movies based on television shows are not known to be particularly revered among the general populace. Just within the last few years we’ve seen the second-rate Bewitched, the boring The A-Team, and the absolute affront to humanity MacGruber. Even the successful ones bring about mixed criticism (The Simpsons Movie).

Given this mediocre track record, I was less than thrilled to see the movie 21 Jump Street, a comedy based off a popular cop drama that ran from 1987 to 1991 and launched the career of Johnny Depp. Starring Channing Tatum (Coach Carter, She’s the Man) and Jonah Hill (Superbad, Get Him to the Greek) this movie proved to be radically different from what I expected. It proved to be everything movie reboots of television shows aren’t: funny and self-aware.

21 Jump Street actually takes place several years after the events of the television series, although the basic premise is the same. Two cops, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are assigned to bust a drug ring by going undercover at a local high school. The plot itself is a nod to the movie’s premise and to the plethora of reboots in contemporary Hollywood (at one point, a police captain explains the reasoning for sending the two undercover as because the department has run out of original ideas and now recycles the old ones because the public is too young to remember).

Hilarity ensues as Schmidt, a proto-typical nerd, begins fitting in with the popular crowd while Jenko is given the more academically rigorous schedule and must adjust to high school through the non-jock perspective. What happens from there is pretty predictable: the two get caught up more in reliving high school than in completing the mission they were originally assigned.

There are plenty of laughs along the way, many more than I would have expected (One notable sequence involves Schmidt and Jenko stealing confiscated marijuana from the police station and buying alcohol to throw a party for the popular crowd, against the wishes of their boss).

As noted above, the main reason why 21 Jump Street works is because it understands how ridiculous it is. It brings up all the old buddy-cop clichés while at the same time expanding upon them in humorous ways. Channing Tatum delivers a surprisingly comedic performance I didn’t think he was capable of pulling off, using his meathead, good-looking charms to his benefit. Jonah Hill is hilarious, as always, playing the nerd-turned-popular role with the great enthusiasm we’ve come to know and love.

21 Jump Street is refreshing, not just because it’s the first decent comedy of 2012, but also because it shows how a very worn-out idea (turning television shows into movies) can actually work.