All class – 21 Jump Street review

21 Jump Street – Starring Jonah HillChanning Tatum, and Brie Larson. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Rated MA. Originally published March 7, 2012. By Simon Miraudo.

21 Jump Street is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia, and via Quickflix Pay Per View.

In this cinematic reimagining of the 80s TV show 21 Jump StreetJonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as incompetent and immature police officers banished to an experimental undercover department where they are tasked with infiltrating a high school. It’s fitting that Hill’s cherubim cop should be nervous about the task. Not because he has to fool teenagers into thinking that he’s similarly pubescent, not because he has to unearth a clandestine drug ring while attending classes, and not because his braces-wearing, bleach-blonde former self had such a horrid time trawling the halls the first time around. Rather, Hill – who produced and co-conceived the story here – has to compete with a certain other high school centric film he was a big part of: SuperbadWhen you star in one of the all-time great teen comedies, it can be a risky move to return to the genre more than five years later (especially when you no longer look anything close to 17 years old).

But Hill has always been the most ambitious of Judd Apatow’s acolytes, which is why he has balanced raunchy comedies with sincere dramatic performances, and has also ventured into screenwriting and producing. His desperate and needy Schmidt in 21 Jump Street is a far cry from Superbad’s foul-mouthed Seth, not to mention his disturbed Cyrus from Cyrusor his softly spoken Peter Brandt in Moneyball (for which he received an Oscar nomination). He is, despite early expectations, the emotional anchor in all of his movies. Fear not though: Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s 21 Jump Street proves he can still bring the funny.

Tatum, who I’ve long been waiting to fulfil his end of the ‘next big thing’ hype bargain, proves he has the charm and comic chops to at least be an affable, dim-witted foil. His Jenko peaked in high school, and upon his not-so-triumphant return to the classrooms discovers that much has changed in his absence: ‘not trying’ is no longer cool, and caring about issues is the new ‘in’ thing. As Jenko gets relegated to the slums of loserdom, it’s up to the surprisingly now-popular Schmidt to figure out where class king and head dealer Eric (Dave Franco) is getting his supply of a dangerous new drug. That is, if he can keep from falling for Eric’s girl Molly (Brie Larson). (Side bar: though Hill and Larson’s chemistry is undeniable, and their characters are both above the legal age of consent, I wished someone – anyone – had noted the ick factor of an adult police officer romancing a teen.)

Screenwriter Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. The Worldthe execrable Project X) subverts expectations whenever he can (having Hill play the big man on campus and Tatum the vulnerable loser is a very nice switch). However, he’s stuck with an almost 30-year-old premise that likely seemed silly even then. He and the directors make hay with it where they can. Lord and Miller, responsible for the criminally underrated and short-lived animated series Clone High and the wonderful Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballshave an astute comic timing, and play around with the editing in a manner that comedy directors rarely do (the class of Apatow eschew style in favour of letting the scene run long to squeeze in all the improv). The cast is augmented by wonderful comic performers, including Ellie Kemper as a teacher with the hots for Jenko, Rob Riggle as a skeezy P.E. coach, Ice Cube as every flustered sergeant in movie history, and Nick Offerman, briefly, as the boys’ first boss. Whoever was responsible for purchasing the screen rights to a corpse like 21 Jump Street and deciding to parade it around in 2012 may not have had the best intentions at heart, but the final product is a seriously funny and super-slick action comedy / high school flick rolled into one. It’s no Superbad, but it’s probably the best buddy movie in some time.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

21 Jump Street is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia, and via Quickflix Pay Per View.

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