When you’re rolling in your seat writhing with laughter, clasping your stomach and experiencing a sharp pain in your jaw, you know you’re having a good time at the movies. Make no mistake, 21 Jump Street renders many such moments. Cheekily directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, brilliantly written and featuring terrific comic performances from Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, this is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy that delivers non-stop gut busting laugh-out-loud gags.
Based on the 80’s TV series of the same name starring Johnny Depp, 21 Jump Street is a great send-up of the show and it buries a surprising amount of sweetness under the layers of snark. Coming up with a fresh angle to tackle the buddy cop genre is a tall order, and the film makes for an inside-out reconstruction of the overused theme. In fact Lord and Miller seem determined to tickle moviegoers frustrated with the predictable formula of the mismatched cops stories. They take down nearly every buddy cop movie cliché dating back to 48 Hours resulting in an utterly mischievous one that works better than it has any right to. The film’s closest cousin is Running Scared though shades of Freebie and the Bean crop up as well. That's fine company to keep, and the film ultimately earns it.
21 Jump Street loosely follows the series - here we have former classmates Channing Tatum as Jenko, an unintelligent but popular chick magnet and Jonah Hill as Schmidt, a geeky overweight goofball who end up as security guards at a park. They chance upon drug dealers and are sent on an undercover mission back to high school to nab the suppliers. Things take a hilarious turn when they accidentally mix up their new identities at school, and it lands Jenko in the science classes meant for Schmidt, who poses as Jenko’s brother and enrolls in track and theater. The role reversal becomes a gold mine for laughs as Jenko begins to learn about the ‘awesomeness’ of science and outrages as Schmidt gets the ladies. The two keep forgetting that they’re on a mission, they even end up taking the very drug they’re trying to stop and hallucinate their gym teacher’s head turning into an ice cream cone.
Lord and Miller deliver a lot of the fresh, boisterously quirky comedy of their previous film Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, and it seems like their inner monster was unleashed by getting a permit to make an R-rated film. There are a lot of dick jokes, and the plot is just an excuse for them to tinker with the audiences’ expectation of the riotous. The drug they’re after is called Holy F*****g Shit and it has the appropriate visual icon too. But what makes all the nasty humor work is all the stuff you don’t see coming, and the comedy has panache rather than a crude stink. There’s even a big car chase with a running gag that mocks Hollywood action scenes.
Not to mention the hilarious Hill and Tatum, who are so devoted to their roles that you almost see a glint in their bromantic eyes. Tatum is way better at comedy than you imagine him to be, and his inherent woodenness is milked endlessly here. Ice Cube as the hysterically profane Captain Dickson is a delight. There’s also a fun cameo towards the end that tops Dali’s surprise in Midnight in Paris.
21 Jump Street is a clever and unexpectedly fresh film that is funny enough to make your face hurt with laughter. Watch it.
(First published in MiD Day)