WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are more than ready to leave their adolescent problems behind. Joining the police force and the secret Jump Street unit, they use their youthful appearances to go undercover in a local high school.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Considering its most unpromising of origins – a big screen remake of a classic TV show – it's ironic that the biggest problem with 21 Jump Street is that it fails to make full use of its premise. The original show is probably known mostly for launching the career of Johnny Depp but it was a fairly sombre, straight-laced affair. The film, simply put, is not.
Effectively, it's a post-modern comedy with a mission statement to work as a buddy cop film, while also poking fun at conventions of the genre in which it quite clearly revelling and the show that spawned it. Along the way it also plays around with the constantly evolving conventions of youth culture as these relatively young cops finds that the whole high school experience has been completely flipped on its head in the few years since they were last there.
The best thing about 21 Jump Street, then, is that directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord and screenwriter Michael Bacall took a crass Hollywood rip off and have actually tried to do something interesting with it.
That it doesn't entirely succeed isn't entirely surprising once you take a look at the past work of its creators – Miller and Lord were responsible for Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (yay) AND Extreme Movie (nay), while Bacall went from the cult brilliance of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World to one of this year's worst films,Project X – but considering how bad 21 Jump Street could have been, it lands ups as a rather pleasant surprise.
Perhaps this, therefore, explains its incredibly high IMDB rating and largely positive overseas reviews. Sadly, another possible reason for this is that with one very notable exception (and an overlooked one at that), 21 Jump Street is the only half decent buddy-cop film to come out in a very, very long time.
Perhaps the simple fact that 21 Jump Street actually has some likeable characters, fun set pieces and even the occasional laugh - as opposed to most modern day examples of the genre, which couldn't be further away from the heydays of Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours – is enough for people to see it as something more than it really is: An OK, but fairly ordinary action comedy.
Or maybe I really am just that far out of sync with the general cinema-going public.
When you get right down to it, the simplest way to explain my underwhelmed reaction to the film is by comparing it to Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz - the overlooked exception to the sucky-buddy-cop-movie rule that I alluded to before. What, you didn't think it was Bad Boys 2, did you?
With Hot Fuzz, Wright not only made a great buddy-cop film, but he also made one that celebrated, subverted and finally reinvented the genre. 21 Jump Street clearly tries to do the same, but it constantly chickens out, as it bows to conformity and convention over true freshness and reinvention.
Still, it didn't go far enough to fully satisfy a film geek like yours truly, it still has enough going for it that it's hard to truly begrudge it its success. After the sheer awfulness of The Sitter, it's good to see Jonah Hill back to some sort of form and, though this is probably damning him with faint praise, Channing Tatum has seldom been better and he's far less out of his element here than he is in the upcoming Rachel McAdams weepy, The Vow.
The action scenes are nicely done too, feeling more classic and, for that matter, comprehensible than most of the headache-inducing post-Bourne, shaky-cam shots of many contemporary action films. And, though it isn't as funny as it could have been, there are certainly the occasional chuckles to be had as well.
Or, if nothing else, it's worth running out to see it just for what is probably the best cameo in a film since Zombieland – and that's on top of a short but awesome appearance from one of the funniest guys on TV right now, Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: