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In the late 1980s, there was a TV show known as 21 Jump Street. That TV show has become a pop culture relic of the era as it being a primo specimen of a TV police procedural with a catchy hook.
The TV show was about team of fresh-faced cops work undercover as high school kids reporting back to their tough/earnest boss at the address listed above. The series ran for four years, and was notably progressive in its willingness to incorporate news-making social issues including AIDS, homophobia and child abuse.
25 years later, the TV show is only remembered primarily as the career kick starter of Johnny Depp. Still, Dim memories and a new generation of pop culture consumers work to the great advantage for 21 Jump Street the movie as the movie being fast, cheeky and very funny interpretation of the original premise sacrifices in teachable moments. The movie makes up for intelligent giddiness.
21 Jump Street is part homage and part wink at the past. It jokes about high school but is also a sensitive sociological study of those crucial years. It bridges slapstick and action and also be quick-witted with its pop references. Also Johnny Depp makes a delightful cameo appearance!
On the surface, 21 Jump Street movie follows the crime-fighting antics of odd-couple cop partners Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum). Their wonky dynamic is established in a perfectly placed opening flashback to 2005 when the two were real high school student. Schmidt is a klutzy, anxious nerd with a brain and Jenko is an athletic academically challenged coolio. Seven years later, both become police rookies and are coincidentally assigned to an undercover high schooler program. The duo are prepared to play out those same life scripts until a mix-up alters fate. Schmidt is assigned a class schedule befitting a popular non-Einstein, while Jenko is shuffled into advanced-placement chemistry. Given a do-over, the two get to re-experience those less than wonder years. They get to work the issues out, and by the way they get to bust a drug ring fronted by a smart and popular guy played with oddball charisma by Dave Franco.
That is just on the surface. Underneath, 21 Jump Street is a riot of risks that pay off. The biggest of which might be handing Tatum funny business, and it turns out to be revelation of his bust-out talents as a really funny and self-aware comic actor. Those scenes where the smart actor, playing a ”dumb” character who realizes he’s not as dumb as he has always believed he is, fakes playing a dumb guy to mess with his smart partner’s head are kind of perfect. Also, Tatum can sustain a great Dumb Face. Besides Tatum, we should credit Hill for making the movie so great. Shaped by the precocious comedic smarts of talent-on-a-roll Jonah Hill, 21 Jump Street movie morphs into an action comedy with a tonal complexity that marks it as a very contemporary creative project.
Not only Johnny Deep appear in the movie but also Ice Cube, but different from Depp, he gets a role to play. He is tweaking in his funky turn as Schmidt and Jenko’s boss, and his joke is equally welcome without the historical background. For instance, explaining why he’s assigning Schmidt and Jenko to shutting down the school drug ring after the death of one student, the captain tells it true: ”This kid is white, so people actually give a s—”. There’s room for laughs and truth at this newly reopened address.
Under the limber direction of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and working from a screenplay by Bacall, Hill and Tatum play their Mutt-and-Jeff act against a supporting cast equally fast on their feet. A refresher viewing of any old 21 Jump Street episode may sharpen your appreciation for the kind of earnest ’80s-TV police captain.