21 Jump Street (2012)

When it first hit the American small screen back in 1987, 21 Jump Street cast a young Johnny Depp as one of the fresh-faced ensemble playing police officers of the titular division, as they infiltrated high schools, colleges and hang-outs to investigate crimes only solvable by going undercover as teenagers. Running for five seasons up until 1991, each hour-long show dealt with major issues of the time that would be of significance to the younger audience it was primarily aimed at, often attempting to put across some form of message about how actions have significant consequences. The 2012 big screen adaptation however veers away from more hard-hitting problems and fully into the buddy-cop movie territory, with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill taking the leads as the initially opposing and hapless duo tasked with repeating a few weeks of high school when a new mystery drug hits the scene and threatens to destroy the lives of impressionable local teens. At the helm are the interesting-choice directors behind the 2009 animated hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and with a story by the on-the-rise, Oscar Nominated Hill (who also shares producer credits with Tatum), it seems like a pretty good reason to venture to the cinema without knowing anything of the original TV inspiration.

In high school, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) don’t really run in the same circles. Schmidt probably doesn’t even run – he knuckles down, two-straps’ his backpack, has very little chance of scoring a date to the upcoming prom and resembles a 16:9 version of Eminen. Tatum on the other hand is a typical sports-type jock who will sadly lack the grades to actually be allowed to the prom; but somehow, 7 years later we find them both joining the police academy together and forging an unlikely alliance which even extends past their graduation as they become beat-partners. Despite graduating though, they really aren’t the best officer pairing on the force – between them they would barely make a single competent cop – and quickly find themselves removed from active cycle-patrol and busted to the recently revived undercover division of 21 Jump Street where their young looks will prove beneficial for covert high-school operations. Their first assignment is to get to the source of a threatening new drug while it is still localised to one high school: by fitting in with the students and uncovering the potential key players in its distribution ring. The trouble is, 7 years is a long time in high-school popularity terms and not everything is as easy as they first thought – Jenko and Schmidt not only need to adjust quickly to their new identities but also to the change in what’s cool in this new age of the “Gleek”.

The script is very self-referential and the jokes rely on the stereotypes of the multitude of similar cop-comedies that have come before it; but somehow – with the obvious cartoon-inspired direction from the Cloudy duo – the flaws that would otherwise be glaring are easy to forgive. The story at least has some heart (significant comedic input from Hill shining through) and the end result, whilst obviously rather contrived, works to deliver reasonable laughs and some rather good action in what could have very easily been something much less in the hands of other less comedically-skilled directors (Rob Zombie was originally slated by Hill to be his directing choice – difficult to imagine now). It’s certainly worth queuing for at a weekend trip to the cinema, if only for one of the best not-so-surprising cameos in recent memory.

21 Jump Street (2012) frame

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