When all is said and done “21 Jump Street” completely bastardizes the original television series from the eighties. The original show was a dramatic and controversial series that took painstaking turns in to very taboo subjects in America and was the stepping point for Johnny Depp. No one shares that frustration more than I do. But surprisingly enough “21 Jump Street” is still a fun and absolutely entertaining action comedy that is about as close to an American version of “Hot Fuzz” as you can get. While it does use the “21 Jump Street” model to get the premise rolling, it doesn’t really spoof or satirize the show. There’s no one mocking Johnny Depp, or Dustin Nguyen, nor is anyone mocking major episodes of the series. The directors do pay homage to the show with their own nods to the series, but it doesn’t lampoon the show so much as use the framework to tell a new story. A new story that’s incidentally based around a more comic tone.
Basically it’s a revival of the premise with new characters. In this reality the “21 Jump Street” cop program has been renewed to infiltrate local high schools and stop potential crime rings. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are an unlikely comedic and action combination who not only have incredible chemistry on-screen but are believable as friends. Their characters are well fleshed out and absolutely empathetic from the minute we meet them and the directors manage to bring out the best in both actors. Yes, Channing Tatum has talent, and he shows it here two fold. While “21 Jump Street” is an action comedy about two police officers, what it really is is a character piece about two men who end up finding something out about themselves when they re-enter high school to stop a crime ring involving a new hallucinogen making the rounds with students. What really helps “21 Jump Street” become something much more than a buddy cop comedy is that you honestly care about both characters and when they begin to involve themselves in the school’s unlikely social circles, their relationship comes under jeopardy and soon enough the case itself. “21 Jump Street” is often a really clever and hysterical comedy with Jonah Hill breezing through the one-liners and quips while Channing Tatum manages to keep up with much skill and offer up his own laughs.
Tatum is surprisingly fearless in the comedy department and it’s pretty shocking to discover he possesses some personality. On the supporting front, Brie Larson is adorable as Hill’s love interest, Rob Riggle is spastic, Dave Franco is hilarious, and Ice Cube is a scene stealer as crusty Captain Dickson. “21 Jump Street” is adept at balancing the cop movie with the coming of age comedy well and both premises are absolutely engrossing to watch unfold. There’s not a lot of predictability while the directors often challenge the conventions of the action genre. Much of what is expected doesn’t happen and there’s often unexpected twists that make the film so pleasing to experience. Much like “Hot Fuzz” the film teams two very different people who are likable, flawed, and entertaining individuals who end up on a crime case that’s completely out of left field, and I caught myself laughing near tears through most of the film. This is a movie about characters you really want to see more of, and I hope they deliver a sequel. I originally crucified this film when I first sat through the trailer, but I’m shocked to admit that “21 Jump Street” is a raucous, entertaining, and incredibly funny film that respects the premise of the original series, and changes my perception of Channing Tatum as a cardboard cut out with muscles. Kudos to everyone involved.