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21 Jump Street

March 21, 2012

25 years ago, “21 Jump Street” was the newest and hottest show on Fox Network, a then up and coming channel that featured raw and edgy material. The show centered on a group of cops assigned to undercover cases in high schools and colleges in order to bust up drug rings and any other Law and Order type problems. The show ended five seasons later in 1991 leaving its mark by making then new comer Johnny Depp a household name. Now the show’s legend looms larger with the Phil Lord and Chris Miller film, 21 Jump Street.

Morton Schmidt and Greg Jenko are two cops new to the force after having a history in high school together. Jenko (Channing Tatum) was your run of the mill popular jock with little brain power while Schmidt (Jonah Hill), the “not so slim shady” wannabe, had enough smarts to cripple his social status for the rest of high school. While in police academy the two find common ground, quickly becoming friends and helping each other overcome their personal weaknesses.

Although the boys are assigned to park patrol luck lands them in the midst of a major drug deal but when they fail to read, let alone know, the Miranda rights they are suspended and reassigned to an undercover case on 21 Jump Street. Their task is to find the supplier and stop the distribution of a lethal yet popular synthetic drug making its way around their former high school. After a mix up with remembering their identities, Schmidt, the once social outcast, finds himself intertwined with the popular crowd while Jenko is thrust in with the nerds. The two must come to terms with dealing with their own pasts and statuses while trying not to screw up a valuable case.

I’ll admit, when I first saw the trailer for 21 Jump Street I was disgusted. Fans of The Cinephiliac are constantly reminded how much I despise remakes and friends knew of my apprehensionon of “skinny Jonah Hill.” Yet 21 Jump Street was so good that I came home and Facebook liked it. To some that’s not a big deal but I’m one of those sticklers that doesn’t believe in “liking” something unless I genuinely love it and damn did I love 21 Jump Street. Nearly everything about it is just well done as it immaculately walks the line of parody and sincerity, and that’s all thanks to screenplay writers Michael Bacall and Johan Hill.

Although parts of 21 Jump Street are well beyond over the top, most of it is strangely believable within the world these two bumbling underdogs exist; such as when Schmidt and Jenko are caught in a bathroom stall shoving their fingers into each others mouths in an attempt to throw up a recently taken drug. The scene is uncomfortable to watch, it even caused me to gag yet I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of the situation yet buying that these two grown men would think that was the best solution.

21 Jump Street’s self-reflexiveness is perhaps its strongest aspect. What makes the film so clever is the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s aware that it’s a remake of an old television show and a rehash of previous action films; therefore, instead of attempting to ignore that fact like most remakes would, 21 Jump Street plays with those conventions constantly making jokes relating to the show as well as the state of remade films. When the boys are reassigned by their original captain (Nick Offerman), he tells them to report to “Jump Street…37 Jump Street.” He then questions if that’s right number or not and the scene hangs for a moment before moving on to the next scene.

For anyone who shared my initial fear that “skinny Jonah Hill” wouldn’t be as funny as “fat Jonah Hill,” let me reassure you, he’s still pretty damn funny and while his moments of improv are at times obvious its nevertheless gut wrenchingly hilarious. Nearly everyone in the 21 Jump Street pulls their weight with notable moments and lines, from Rob Riggle as the loud mouthed, crude school coach to Ice Cube as the foul and angry Captain. Yet it’s Channing Tatum who surprised me the most with some of the best scenes. Yes I too only thought of him as that brainless meathead who’s to be blamed almost single-handily for the Step-Up franchise, but Tatum delivers so much humor and improvised moments of genius as the arrogant but insecure Jenko that I forgive him for his past sins.

21 Jump Street was surprisingly fantastic. The character development doesn’t go beyond fleshing out Schmidt and at times the filming of hand to hand combat and action sequences are janky making it hard to focus on exactly what’s going on, but those are just minor bumps in an otherwise the smooth thrill ride. It’s a film that continuously kept surprising me with its humor keeping me entertained and laughing. I actually had the choice of either seeing it again a night after or writing this review; I chose to be productive and write this review. I completely regret that decision.

SEE IT. If you saw and thought The Other Guys was good then this is the film for you. If you haven’t seen either, man up.

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