‘21 Jump Street’ Movie Review

Featured Article, Movies
on March 21, 2012

21 Jump Street
Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
Directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Rated R, 109 min.
Theatrical release March 16, 2012

The ’80s TV series that kick-started Johnny Depp’s acting career gets a raunchy, rollicking reboot in the year’s first laugh-out-loud comedy for grown-ups.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star in “21 Jump Street” as two bumbling rookie cops given an undercover assignment to break up a drug ring. To do so, they must infiltrate a high school, put on their best baby faces and assume fake identities as students.

Back in 1987, the TV series played this setup totally straight-faced as a crime drama pitched for hip, young MTV-weaned audiences. The movie, however, not only blows comedic holes in the self-inflated prime-time seriousness of its predecessor, but gleefully mocks it with dozens of breezy cross-references to dozens of other bits of well-aged pop-cultural cheese from its era.

“It's like we're at the end of a 'Die Hard' movie, but it's our actual lives!” exclaims Hill's character, Schmidt, as he and his partner Jenko (Tatum) stroll away from a colossal, climactic explosion, vehicle pile-up and bad-guy take-down.

The movie even incorporates several surprising cameos from some of the stars of the TV show. Don't get up to go to the bathroom during the final 20 minutes, or you'll miss a real golly-whopper.

The jokes are crude. The gags are crass. The humor squeezes just about all the giggle juice it can get out of the R rating. If you need a movie map, this “21 Jump Street” is on the FAR side of town from “Sesame Street.”

Hill, who lost 40 pounds to play his policeman role, and Tatum, finally connecting with a part that synchs his handsome physical charms with a previously untapped gift for broad comedy, make a great duo. Their timing, banter and chemistry suggest the makings of a twosome that could easy team up again.

The laughs fly fast, furious, and from every corner of the screen. There are toss-away one-liners that are gone almost before they have a chance to land on the ears. There's a running gag about things that are supposed to blow up, but don't, another about Miranda Rights, and another about the various mix-ups that stem from Jenko and Schmitt getting their fake identities crossed. There's an extended freeway chase in which the dual controls of a drivers-ed car, golf balls, a tennis racket, a pinata, a truck full of chickens, a motorcycle gang and references to the Keebler Elf, ZZ Top and Peter Pan all come into play.

The supporting cast includes Rob Riggle as a track coach trying to make sense of the two new students who look so much older than the rest of the seniors; Ellie Kemper (from TV's “The Office”) making the most of her time as a hot-to-trot chemistry teacher; rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube, side-splittingly funny as the “angry, black” Jump Street police sergeant; and Dave Franco, actor James' younger brother, as a brainy, eco-active student leader with more than one extra-curricular activity.

As summer heats up, there'll be other movie comedies raising their hands to get your attention. But for now, this bawdy, burst-out-laughing, back-to-school rewind takes an assured early seat at the head of the class.