Let me preface this entire review by giving you all a bit of a back story: when I first heard about 21 Jump Street in 2009, I was pretty skeptical. Actually, skeptical isn’t a strong enough word. I thought that it would be impossible for Jonah Hill and Co. to make this movie any good.
And then I saw the first trailer last year, and I thought, yep, I was right: this movie is going to be horrible. And it’s coming out in March? The writing was, in my opinion, on the wall for this one. And as new trailers and TV spots debuted, I became less and less interested.
Well, as some of you may know, the first reviews of the film began rolling in almost 2 weeks ago, and lo and behold, they were surprisingly positive. Now through over 150 reviews, 21 Jump Street sits at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it Certified Fresh.
So, I went out and saw it on Friday, March 16 — opening night. In the Cine Capri at Harkins Theatre in Tempe, Arizona, home of Arizona State University. College town. 9:45 PM showing. The night before St. Party’s day (in case anyone tries to tell you otherwise, my brother coined this phrase via iPhone autocorrect).
To my surprise, people came out in droves to see this movie. The 600-seat auditorium was packed, people filing in minutes before showtime looking anywhere and everywhere for an open seat.
The trailers played, the movie started, and now, I’m willing to admit that I was flat-out wrong.
21 Jump Street is, in one word, great. In two words, it’s really great.
The writing is top-notch, the nostalgia factor is kicked up to 10, and the film isn’t afraid of self-deprecation. There are some in-jokes and fourth wall-breaking, but that’s all part of the fun here.
The film, about a “cancelled gig from the 80’s” (wink wink), is centered around a pair of underachieving cops, Officers Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.
Schmidt is the über smart, street cred-less high school misfit who is afraid to ask a pretty girl to the prom; Jenko is the dim-witted jock who is flunking so bad that he can’t go to the prom. Seven years after high school, Schmidt and Jenko are enrolled in the same police academy class: Schmidt aces all the written exams, while Jenko passes all the physical tests. The two quickly befriend each other to make it through the academy.
The two finally make their first arrest, taking down one man from a notorious drug dealing ring, but the charges must be dropped because Jenko forgot to read the man his Miranda rights; this leads to a pretty funny exchange, one that has been seen countless times in trailers but is still funny after every viewing (“You have the right to remain an attorney.”; “Did you just say you have the right to be an attorney?”; “You do have the right to be an attorney, if you want to.”).
Because of their ineptitude, the two are relegated to Jump Street for reassignment, where they meet Captain Dickson, played by Ice Cube in one of many knee-slappingly funny roles in this movie. They are to “infiltrate the dealers, and find the supply” of a deadly drug at a local high school, where they are undercover as students (brothers, actually) because of their youthful appearance, yet it is painstakingly obvious that they are older than 18. But this time around, because of a mix-up in their schedules, it is Schmidt who is the popular one, while Jenko is they guy taking “app chemistry.”
The two make both friends and enemies in their first few days, find girls to crush on or be crushed on by (for Schmidt, a student, and for Jenko, a teacher), and begin re-assimilating to high school. They throw a party to try to find out who’s dealing, begin selling to try to get an in on the supplier, and, in the process, begin to get too involved in their new roles as their friendship begins to fall by the wayside.
There is some amount of melodrama here, too much according to some, but I found it to work quite well. The movie is non-stop action and laughs, so it is nice to get a bit of a break in the middle to give the gut and eyes a rest.
This leads to an epic yet hilarious car chase sequence (“I really thought that was going to explode”), a frighteningly funny performance of Peter Pan, and one crazy prom. And all of this culminates in two of the best cameo appearances ever in a film, made by the original Jump Streeters, Johnny Depp and Peter Deluise.
In the end, Schmidt and Jenko make their first big bust, but its the audience members that are the real winners here. There are laughs to suit all tastes, from mockery of film conventions and cliches, to Cary Grant-esque deadpanning, to dick and fart jokes; there is a tremendous amount of action, including some pretty epic explosions (once they finally occur); and there is a feeling of nostalgia that just can’t be beat.
21 Jump Street is based on the highly popular 80s TV show, which ran for 5 seasons and launched the careers of Johnny Depp, Richard Grieco, and Peter Deluise. While the film is in no way a true adaptation of the series, that is probably what makes it succeed as well as it does: Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill, and the rest of the writers were given the leeway to write this film to the tastes of the 21st century and make it their own, which means incorporating each of their own styles and putting them all together into the film that eventually made its way to theaters.
Despite its not-too-intelligence-laden material, this film is smartly scripted, smartly acted, and smartly shot.
Jonah Hill said that he spent nearly 5 years working on this project, and it shows: his hard work has paid off in dividends, as this film, made on a budget of $42 million, is likely to make back that amount and then some in its first 3 or 4 days of release. While on the red carpet at the Oscars, E! personality Giuiliana Rancic asked the Academy Award nominee (there it is, my first reference to Hill’s Oscar nom) about his new film, to which Hill replied: “I don’t think I’ll be nominated for that one!”
He is right, of course, but that’s not for lack of trying. Hill and Co. took this film and brought it to the next level. Two thumbs up, 4 stars, however you want to put it, 21 Jump Street is a film that I strongly urge everyone to go see. It is surprisingly smart, incredibly action-packed, and outrageously funny. 21 Jump Street is surely going to make you laugh through all of its 109-minute runtime.
But here is the long and short of it: every comedy coming up this year officially has to surpass this film if it wants to be called “the best comedy of the year,” because right now, 21 Jump Street lays claim to that title.
21 Jump Street is currently in theaters nationwide. Have you seen it yet? Do you want to? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!