21 Jump Street Review
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About a quarter of a century ago, a kid named Johnny showed up on a new TV crime drama called 21 Jump Street—and the rest is Hollywood history. Years later, a chubby kid named Jonah decided to adapt the gritty TV drama into a big-screen comedy, bringing on a costar who was previously best known for his poorly-acted dramatic roles. And while the finished product may have almost nothing in common with that original series, it sure is one ridiculously funny cop comedy.

Back when they were in high school, nerdy Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and brawny Jenko (Channing Tatum) hung out in very different circles. But when they met up again during their training at the police academy, they realized that their differences could help them pass—and they quickly became good friends.

After graduating from the academy, the two rookie cops are desperate to prove themselves—but when an attempted drug bust goes horribly wrong, they end up transferred to a new undercover program. They’re sent back to high school, posing as students, to infiltrate a drug ring that’s distributing a dangerous new synthetic drug.

Jenko’s thrilled to have the chance to go back and be the cool kid in school again, while Schmidt dreads having to relive his high school nightmares. But both soon discover that high school today is nothing like it was seven years ago.

It’s no big surprise that the big-screen adaptation of 21 Jump Street contains little more than a shadow of the original series. And, really, the film’s greatest flaw is its title. Sure, the TV drama was a big hit in the ‘80s, helping Johnny Depp catapult to superstar status. But there’s little to connect the popular crime drama series and this wacky cop comedy. And while younger viewers (those most interested in seeing a Jonah Hill comedy) won’t even remember the series, the show’s fans will most likely take offense to the irreverent adaptation.

For that reason, it probably would have been best to take the basic idea, turn it into a comedy, and call it something completely different. Granted, the film wouldn’t have gotten a super-secret Johnny Depp cameo that way, but it would have been less frustrating for fans.

In attaching itself to the series, the film set itself up for disastrous results. Fortunately, though, the filmmakers made the wise decision to completely let go of the seriousness of the series—and the film never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. Instead, it’s hilariously self-deprecating and self-aware, often making references to things like the new trend of regurgitating old ideas from the ‘80s and hoping that no one will notice—or the fact that 31-year-old Tatum looks way too old to pass for a high school kid.

The result, then, is the funniest cop comedy since The Other Guys. It’s wacky and irreverent, complete with wild and crazy fight scenes and car chases—yet it rarely takes its outrageous comedy too far.

Meanwhile, despite his résumé of lovably bumbling performances in sappy romances like The Vow and Dear John (as well as a painfully flat performance in The Eagle), Tatum appears to have finally found his calling in comedy. He seems perfectly suited for his role as the former dumb jock—and he often ends up stealing the show from comedy staple (and Oscar nominee) Hill.

It may be nothing like its TV namesake—but, if you’re willing (and able) to separate the two, you’ll find that 21 Jump Street is an unexpectedly arresting action comedy. Irreverent without being obnoxious—with the perfect balance of adventure and laughs—it’s a great pick for a fun-filled night out.

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