21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

I know what you're thinking.

Another tired old retread of a half-forgotten TV series from the Eighties, further evidencing the dearth of originality in a Hollywood stuck in its own cash-cow timewarp.

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21 Jump Street knows you're thinking this too. Its opening title, advertising its production company Original Film, serves as a brazen, ironic rejoinder to our expectations of dreary derivativeness. And the revival of a certain "cancelled undercover police programme from the Eighties" (located on Jump Street) is described by the main characters' chief in terms that seem to read the viewer's mind: "Those guys are out of ideas, so all they do is recycle ideas from the past and hope we don't notice."

With its back-to-school approach to covert policework, there was already something inherently nostalgic about the TV show 21 Jump Street, which first aired in 1987 and ran for five series, introducing the world to the acting talents of one Johnny Depp. Yet while this reimagining might feature Holly Robinson Peete in a walk-on reprise of her role as Officer Judy Hoffs, and might even include near its end - in a scene that is inevitable but still cleverly surprising - a far starrier cameo from the original show, for the most part the film is too busy being anti-nostalgic about the mid-Noughties to bother looking back with reverent – or even ridiculing – eyes at the late Reagan era.

Meanwhile, writers Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill eschew the procedural thrills of their source material for some bromantic comedy and undercover antics, where investigative methods include throwing a kegger and making fireworks out of chemistry sets.

Way back in 2005, Eminem-aping nerd Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and dim jock Jenko (Channing Tatum) found themselves excluded for different reasons from that crucial step in the American rite of passage, the school prom. Later, these two hopeless kidults become best buds at the police academy after discovering that they complete each other - Schmidt helping Jenko with his grades, Jenko helping Schmidt with his physical exercise.

Cut to the present, and they are reassigned to the Jump Street programme, where they are informed by their grouchily stereotype-embracing captain Dickson (Ice Cube) that they must adopt the aliases of teenaged brothers Brad and Doug in order to infiltrate Saban High School and locate the source of a new synthetic drug. Almost immediately getting their identities mixed up, the two are forced to face once again the unresolved issues of their adolescence, in a school environment that has evolved considerably since 2005 – except that, as Jenko gets in touch for the first time with his inner geek and Schmidt finds himself unprecedentedly cool and popular, this odd couple finds its friendship tested to the limits.

Directed with an unrestrained sense of fun by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the team behind Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs), 21 Jump Street blends zany character comedy and squeamishly surreal grossout with some postmodern wit and knowing parody of action cliché tropes. The material may be a bit too hit-and-miss to justify the 109-minute duration, but thanks to the sublime chemistry of Hill and Channing (who knew the brooding bruiser had such perfect comic timing?) and some real standout laughs, viewers will leave this film with a big smile, wishing that all trawls through the Eighties archives could be so freshly rethought.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2012
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A pair of cops are sent back to high-school under cover to bust a drugs ring in this reboot of the 80s TV series.
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Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writer: Michael Bacall, from a story by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, based on the TV series created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J Cannell

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Holly Robinson Peete

Year: 2012

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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