The very idea of a 21 Jump Street movie is absurd. Why would you remake the very 1980′s show about cops with youngish looks infiltrating high schools? It’s fitting that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum turned the premise into a comedy–but what’s unexpected is how funny and charming it is. For those who’ve felt that Tatum has been given more roles than his talent should allow may be forced to do an about-face after this. Tatum – like the movie – is winning and hilarious.

The Players:

  • Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
  • Writers: Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill (Story)
  • Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco
  • Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
  • Cinematography: Barry Peterson

The Plot:

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) were not friends in high school, but when both join the Police Academy, it’s apparent that Schmidt has the smarts and Jenko has the athletic ability. Both help each other through training, and they become bike cops. When a bust goes bad (because Jenko can’t remember the Miranda rights) they’re assigned to 21 Jump Street, where they are to act as undercover agents at a high school. But where Schmidt used to be made fun of and Jenko was king of the school, nowadays their roles are reversed, and Schmidt gets in with the cool kids while Jenko is stuck with the science dorks. Can they finish their assignment while not getting sucked into old high school behavior?

The Good:

  • Funny: That’s the final measurement of all comedy, but it’s always worth noting. 21 Jump Street is consistently funny from start to finish. There are all kinds of different gags, and all the performers bring in their different energies to the material. And because Lord and Miller know what they’re shooting, it’s not just improv-based funny lines, but set ups and payoffs as well.
  • Narrative Hook: There is an actual story here, and thematic elements that make it more than just gags. The idea that the film explores their friendship, and what it means to be cool now versus a decade (or possibly two decades) ago makes it a commentary on not only modern living but the original show, and cultural shifts. As the directors said in their interview, Channing Tatum seems a throwback to the days of beefcake heroes like Sylvester Stallone more than our more modern comic book action stars.
  • Chemistry/Buddy Cops: Tatum and Hill bounce off each other in great ways. Tatum is smart enough to play his role as a meathead – his cleverness is in playing it at someone who isn’t clever – and that’s a skill, while Hill can obviously drop a smart line or two. Hill gets the real love interest here with Brie Larson, and they have a number of great scenes together, specifically a phone conversation that she has to say is a bit anachronistic. It is, but it’s also great.
  • Third Act: Some comedies are better in the middle or the beginning when they are just exploiting a premise, but this film avoids the potholes of something like Stripes where it doesn’t get overwhelmed by action, yet the film still has to have a big action sequence or two to close out the film. The film not only ends well, there’s a montage that closes the film that sends you out laughing hard.
  • Channing Tatum: Earlier roles played up Tatum’s beefiness or his romantic swagger, but who knew he could be such an appealing comic performer?

The Bad:

  • Staying Power: The only thing I can think to say about the film that’s less good is that it might be ephemeral. I like Talladega Nights, but I don’t watch it with the regularity of Anchorman21 Jump Street may work partly because it seems like it shouldn’t. I recommend the movie, it’s funny and that’s all that matters, but I don’t know if it’s a perennial comedy at this point. But that’s the sort of thing that can only be gauged by time and repeat viewings. It could be.

Overall:

What makes people laugh is more in the eye of the beholder than a generality, but the energy of this film suggests it will be hard to dislike. Charming and massively entertaining, 21 Jump Street is a good comedy that delivers great comic performances and enough of a plot to keep the film moving along.

Rating: 8.5/10

21 Jump Street opens March 16. Definitely check this one out.

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Trailer: