“You didn’t even read him his Miranda rights?!”. And so kicks off the premise for Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street. Two young police officers, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, aren’t doing very well at the ins and outs of daily police-work even when limited to basic tasks like park duty (on bicycle). Because of their young looks they are chosen to go undercover as high-school students to infiltrate a drug ring.
The film is a reboot of the Johnny Depp-starring TV series from the 1980s which failed to make much of an impact outside of the U.S. I’m assuming I wasn’t the only one whose only exposure to it was seeing it listed on Depp’s IMDB filmography between Cry Baby and Edward Scissorhands.
Adapting a property like this is always going to be a challenge. Most of your international audience have had little to no exposure to the original series, so while you have to pay homage to it, you have to approach the film as a brand new story and if you can fit in a few subtle nods to the original’s fans then so be it. Sometimes it works brilliantly – Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and Todd Philips’ Starsky & Hutch are personal favourites – or you end up with Charlie’s Angels or The Dukes of Hazzard.
Thankfully 21 Jump Street is much more “LOL” than “:(“, to use the language of the wacky teenagers this plot deals with. There are no shortage of laughs and while the story isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, the film never drags and keeps things moving nicely. Most of the jokes are self-aware and smart, without relying on the overt sexual-innuendo that a lot of these films rely on. If you’ve got your teen-movie/action/comedy checklist out, then tick off i) car chase, ii) prom, iii) meeting with the principal, iv) gym class, v) drama class, vi) science experiments and the old 1990s favourite – vii) Mammy listening in on your phonecalls.
It’s been six years since Channing Tatum impressed me so much alongside Shia LaBeouf with A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and while a lot of people have since been quick to pigeon-hole him as nothing more than a female-friendly beefcake leading man, he shows here that he has the comic chops to go along with the big action-roles and emotionally-charged romance films that studios have been putting him in for the last five years. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily saying we have another Gosling on our hands here but for a long-time he was just “the guy from The Notebook”, so who knows what could happen over the course of his 2012.
As part of a strong supporting cast, Dave Franco is the stand-out. It’s not going to be easy to emerge from his older brother’s over-achieving shadow but on the evidence of what we see here, he’s able to balance comedy, charm and smugness brilliantly. And he has also inherited his brother’s eyes which I’m told is a good thing.
Add in some great cameos and a note-perfect performance from a svelte Jonah Hill (who was also a co-producer and screenwriter) and there really shouldn’t be anything keeping you away from seeing this. Go forth.
USA / Directed By: Phil Lord, Chris Miller / Written By: Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill (story) / Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Nick Offerman, Ellie Kemper, Brie Larson / 109min / Action, Comedy / Release: 16 March 2012 (UK/Irl/US/Canada)