01/05/2012. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
Somehow the warning signs did not look very promising for 21 Jump Street. The regurgitation of bringing back another nostalgic television show from yesteryear would understandably have eyes rolling in back of one’s head. In all fairness the prospect of introducing old television programs that get the big screen treatment for today’s younger audience is not always a bust (witness successful entries such as The Brady Bunch, Star Trek and The Addams Family for example).
However, it is the forgettable farces such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Mod Squad, McHale’s Navy and Bewitched that soil the concept of classic TV-turned-into-movie adaptation genre.
Thankfully, the raunchy romp 21 Jump Street is a surprising treat in its subversive, satirical skin. Not only does it revitalize the interest in the early 80’s Fox-TV cop show that brought the attention to today’s established Hollywood hotshots that range from talented cinema oddball such as Oscar-nominated Johnny Depp to ubiquitous television personality Holly Robinson Peete (“Celebrity Apprentice”, “The Talk”, “Mike and Molly”) but it brings some wry freshness to the teen scene flick where empty laughs at cheap recycled shtick can actually be entertaining in its biting wit.
Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller provide an unlikely combination of raucous ribaldry, cautionary sentiment, trashy trivialities and playful perversity to the You Tube/Facebook generation that will flock to 21 Jump Street’s profane frivolity much like a slab of red meat that will find its way into Lady Gaga’s wardrobe selection. Needlessly broad, brash and bracing, 21 Jump Street gives a three-dimensional funny facelift to its televised inspiration from three decades ago as a hip and hellish spoof on teen-angst tales soaked in crassness.
The premise mirrors what the gimmick was in the 80’s television show that featured baby-faced police officers doing undercover work in a youth-oriented environment where older law enforcers cannot freely tread. In this up-to-date send-up, 25 year-old cops Schmidt (the Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill from “Moneyball”) and Jenko (Channing Tatum of “The Vow”, “Dear John”, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) are part of the 21 Jump Street unit. Their assignment: to go back to their old high school and find out who is behind the distribution of a mysterious drug being touted about at the school. Both Schmidt and Jenko report to Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) as he oversees their undercover operation at the high school grounds.
Obviously the running gag is that the deceptively young-looking officers are amazed at how much their old stomping grounds have changed since they roamed the hallways in their heyday. Predictably, hunky Jenko was the popular bigshot during his secondary schooling days while the shorter and puffier Schmidt was at the other end of the spectrum—in other words he was part of Loserville during his academic doldrums.
This time the roles are reversed as Jenko gets to delve into the unpopular crowd as Schmidt is the BMOC (big man on campus). As a fringe benefit to Schmidt’s preferable status as the “It” guy he manages to draw the affections of curvaceous student Molly (Brie Larson). The undercover officers pull off a remarkable transition as they settle into their pimple-popping personas as high schoolers out on a lark. But the bigger picture still looms at large—just who is the drug kingpin and the suppliers that are operating on the turf that force Schmidt and Jenko to relive their reading, writing and arithmetic memories?
What elevates 21 Jump Street amidst its breezy naughtiness is the inspired script armed with side-splitting slapstick, decent action sequences and a plethora of sight gags challenging one to bust a gut laughing. The coarse comedy is fittingly palatable for this kinetic caper that playfully waves around its irreverence. Hill, who has had his share of partaking in off-kilter and suggestive comedies, is utterly hilarious. Hill’s collaboration with screenwriter Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”) joyfully demonstrates the cheeky outrageousness. Tatum is a revelation as the former pretty boy jock-turned-dud stud.
This offbeat movie may cause younger viewers to be curious about the old television cop series that gave birth to the likes of the aforementioned Johnny Depp during his boob tube heartthrob days. What 21 Jump Street possesses is a wildly impish and imaginative take on its small screen blueprint—something that a majority of television retreads prepped for the big screen fall short of doing when rehashing memories of idiot box ditties from another era. Great chemistry between the laugh-out-loud leads Hill and Tatum and a motivated supporting cast uplifts 21 Jump Street as a welcomed guilty pleasure waiting to be embraced.
Rude, improvised and proudly unapologetic, 21 Jump Street is indeed arresting in its boundless banality that one can stomach from a rip-roaring R-rated ruse that creatively reaches for its sordid silliness.
21 Jump Street (2012) Sony Pictures
1 hr. 49 mins.
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, DeRay Davis
Directed by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
MPAA Rating: R
Critic’s Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars).
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