I really wish people would pump their brakes when it comes to remakes or contemporary adaptations. Listen, I’m not the biggest fan of remakes, but most of the remakes occurring in Hollywood are reinventions of TV shows or films that are either stuck in a time vacuum or are complete garbage. Sure, Karate Kid was a popular film back in the 80’s, but let’s not pretend that it’s some work of art. Based on the reception it initially got, I could’ve sworn people thought the studio behind it were taking neon permanent markers to the Mona Lisa. The same fear applies to 21 Jump Street. Well, maybe partially. Based off the silly TV show hailing from the 80’s, 21 Jump Street reincarnates a premise that launched Johnny Depp’s career. The main difference, outside a change in principle actors, is that this 21 Jump Street lampoons the show’s original premise and asserts itself in the realm of comedy, not drama.
Existing in the same realm as the show, at least spiritually, 21 Jump Street follows two ill-equipped cops in Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum). As we come to learn, Schmidt was a bit of a dweeb in high school. Sporting Eminem inspired attire and a smile hampered by braces, Schmidt was a walking punch-line. Jenko was his natural antithesis. Good looking and athletic, Jenko was the king of his school despite his lack of intelligence. Social differences separated these two men. That is until their paths cross again seven years later with both men training to become cops, a life which they think will be badass. Much to their dismay and our viewing pleasure, it isn’t. But after becoming best friends and blowing an impromptu drug arrest, Schmidt and Jenko get banished to the subdivision known as 21 Jump Street. There Jenko and Schmidt use their youthful appeal to infiltrate high school life and expose a drug ring. Through hilarious banter and expected, but funny role reversals between Schmidt and Jenko, bullets and laughs blaze across the screen in a manic manner.
The laughs are what I expected. What I didn’t expect was a John Hughes like tenderness from our two leads. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t about a deep, everlasting friendship. Nonetheless, the camaraderie between Hill and Tatum is a pleasant surprise that gives the film enough heart to keep us laughing with the characters, not at them. Balancing this stunning tenderness with comedy and action is a feat that is triumphantly achieved by directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. As demonstrated in their previous film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Lord and Miller have a knack for filling over the top sequences with laughs and genuine interest in character. In the case of 21 Jump Street, there is an assortment of vehicular based scenes that wonderfully tip toe between crass action and charming character based comedy. Doubling 21 Jump Street’s gains is its insistent winking at the audience. Everyone on the production team knows that filmgoers can’t logically justify the film being made. This knowledge ends up delivering a collection of defamatory jokes about the show, remakes and action films of the same ilk. One gag in particular revolves around a high-speed chase and the explosive expectations found in action films (e.g. shooting a gun at an oil transport truck).
Playful, surprisingly smart and featuring more than enough laughs, 21 Jump Street is a worthwhile affair. I can attribute its success to the wonderful leads, or even its genuine love for the characters present, but much of its success stems from that fact that it knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t pretend it’s a serious film, nor does it truly believe it’s important enough to even exist. With that being said, by knowing the silliness of its existence and continuously supplanting deprecating humor against itself, 21 Jump Street is an uproarious film that doesn’t give a shit about convention or being entirely relevant.