Early in the new comedy, “21 Jump Street,” a police captain explains that the police force is reinstating the Jump Street program from the ‘80s because "the people who think these things up have no creativity or imagination. All they do now is recycle [stuff] from the past and expect us not to notice."
Funny, that’s exactly what I thought when I first heard that some filmmakers were turning the old TV show, “21 Jump Street” into a movie. “Funny” is also what I thought when I left the theater, because surprisingly, this new movie is genuinely funny.
The film is based on the silly idea that two youthful-looking police officers would be sent back to high school as undercover agents in an attempt to sniff out some drug dealers. The joke is that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill both look far too old to play high school students, but unlike the original TV show, the new movie has no problem pointing this out. It’s an effective strategy because once you get past that hurdle, the rest of the film turns out to be a lot of fun.
I love how “21 Jump Street” mines humor from giving these two guys a chance to take a second crack at high school. This time around the roles are reversed because Jenko (Tatum) can’t remember his undercover name, so the former dumb jock is accidentally enrolled in A.P. Chemistry while the former brainiac, Schmidt (Hill) gets a chance to become the cool kid on campus. Tatum proves to be an adept comic actor as he makes fun of his hunky-but-dim bulb movie star persona. Hill also gets a lot of laughs, but we already knew that he was an accomplished comic. Together they form a very funny buddy team.
The action side of “21 Jump Street” isn’t nearly as satisfying, giving us a mediocre mystery to solve and some lackluster action sequences. There are a few running gags that rely on the action plot, such as explosions never going off at the correct moment, but for the most part, the actual story is a bust and causes the film to bloat up to nearly two hours.
Still, the film succeeds because it has Hill and Tatum at the heart of the movie. They are both in top form, buying into the silly premise and taking it as far as it will go. They score points by being genuinely relatable characters as well as by making us laugh a lot. Ice Cube also scores some guilty pleasure laughs by playing a police captain prone to launching into hilariously profane tirades. All of which leads to one of the nicest surprises of the year—“21 Jump Street” embraces a recycled concept and spins it into genuine comic gold.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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