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Published February 3, 2013

I had plenty of reservations about 21 Jump Street. The original show revolved around a group of youthful cops who worked undercover in high schools, launching Johnny Depp into teen idol status. It was warm and classic 80s. Did it really need to be remade in a slick, 21st century setting?

The original 21 Jump Street cast.
The original 21 Jump Street cast.

The film may disappoint those who are looking for a faithful adaption. The tone is completely different, and it’s a modern reboot rather than a remake. Regardless, as a stand-alone film it is surprisingly good, with a fair balance of comedy, action and a few moments of touching sincerity.

There’s more than a hint of Judd Apatow’s influence in this M-rated comedy. Jonah Hill plays Schmidt, nerdy kid turned hapless cop. Throw in the classic brawny-but-brainless ex-prom king Jenko (Channing Tatum), and we have ourselves an unlikely bromance. Their natural enmity becomes friendship in police academy, with Schmidt’s smarts complementing Jenko’s athleticism. After graduating, their incompetence gets them sent to Jump Street, tasked with finding the source of a popular new drug amongst teens.

21 Jump Street

Assuming they will slip back into their old high school roles, the pair quickly learn that a lot has changed in the years since they graduated. Hipsters, comic books, the environment and caring are in.

The leader of the in-crowd, and our prime suspect, is privileged, hypocritical, “activist” boy Eric (Dave Franco). Outwardly easygoing but mysterious and a little vindictive, Eric takes a liking to Schmidt. Suddenly the geek is cool, while Jenko finds himself befriending the awkward, card-trading science nerds he would’ve beaten up in his heyday. This reversal of roles is a clever twist and fun to see being played out.

As Schmidt becomes caught up in the world of high school and even falls for a girl (Brie Larson), resentment builds between the officers. Humiliation, awkward social interactions and (a lot of) alcohol are involved, with the film managing to paint a surprisingly delicate and accurate picture of high school (penis jokes included).

Near the end, the film degenerates into ridiculously implausible, Pineapple Express-type action. Car chases, drugs, prom dresses and spectacular explosions ensue, with the duo still finding time to make up and restore their friendship while also learning more about themselves (aww).

Lovingly meta and at times blatantly self-referential, the film pays homage to the original show by poking fun of it. There are plenty of digs at Jenko’s age (Tatum is in his 30s) and the stereotype of the “angry, black cat”, Jump Street supervisor (Ice Cube). It even features cameos from two Jump Street alumni. It’s loaded with slapstick, comedic actors (including Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation, Ellie Kemper from The Office and Jake Johnson from New Girl) and a few f-bombs.

Definitely worth a watch if you appreciate any of Jonah Hill’s past works, clever pop culture references or watching hilarious drug trips onscreen. (Disclaimer: I am not advocating drug use.)

Rating: 9/10

Note: First published in Catalyst Magazine.

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