Dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller, US, 2012, 109 mins
Review by Dan Collacott
For every A-Team there are probably a dozen Miami Vices or Dukes of Hazard, but this hasn’t stopped Hollywood studios from continuing to mine the rich resource that is 70s and 80s cop/action shows.
In this instance at least the film makers can’t be accused of cashing in on the popularity of the original 21 Jump Street series. After all, it may have helped launched the career of one Johnny Depp, but I doubt the film’s target audience will even remember the original series (I struggle and I’m pushing 34). Therefore this film feels more like a fan made movie than cynical exploitation.
Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are two rookie police partners, who wind up getting transferred to the 21 Jump Street undercover school police program after a bungled arrest. The duo is tasked with going back to high school as students to infiltrate a drugs ring. Having shared contrasting high school experiences at the same school, they are forced to relive those experiences from the other’s perspective. Jenko, previously the handsome, popular but dumb jock bully to Schmidt’s tragic geeky loser, ends up playing the type of science geek he once bullied. His partner gets to role play being the popular party guy and getting the prom date he once missed out on.
The plot is a fairly sentimental and fun joyride. Schmidt (the brains of the outfit) gains a bit of courage and confidence (and a girlfriend) whilst Jenko (the dumb but athletic one) gets some smarts and learns a bit of humility. All the while they awkwardly and hilariously try to balance their lives as students with their police mission.
A lightweight fish out of water buddy cop movie may sound quite lame. But the script is finely weighted, with great characterisations, well observed situations and sharp dialogue. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller strike a superb balance between comedy bromance, high school melodrama and action. There are also plenty of tongue in cheek nods and references to the original series, which is treated with due reverence throughout. Original stars Johnny Depp and Dustin Nguyen even get hilarious cameos in the film’s climax.
Tatum and Hill are well cast and have plenty of on screen chemistry, Tatum in particular is a superb spring board for Jonah Hill playing erm… well himself. The supporting cast also stand up well, in particular Ice Cube as the clichéd bad-ass head of the Jump Street programme, who delivers pure comedy gold with every line he utters. Fans of Starsky and Hutch, Superbad and The Hangover will find this film an unexpected guilty pleasure.