When I saw the first trailer for 21 Jump Street, I just rolled my eyes. The Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill pairing didn’t seem like it was going to work and the scenes featured in the clips did not inspire confidence that the rest of the movie was going to be my sense of humor. Or that it was even necessarily going to be funny, period. So when I went into the screening last week, I had pretty low expectations. To be completely honest, I anticipated that it was going to be terrible.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit.
Tatum and Hill play former high school classmates who ran in very different social circles. One was a popular jock and the other was a dorky outcast. I’ll let you guess which was which. They meet up again when they both join the police force and become friends and partners. Their general ineptitude and youthful looks land them on the undercover squad where they are charged with infiltrating a local high school to bring down a drug ring. They get to experience high school all over again, but with their roles reversed. Hilarity ensues.
Despite my reservations, the lead pairing actually compliment each other quite well. The comedic chops of Tatum were particularly surprising as he is mostly know for being in movies I would never see (The Vow, Dear John, Step Up) or more action driven fare. Who knew that he would revel in being goofy? Hill is solid as usual. The humor can be raunchy and slapsticky, but there are also moments of sweetness as well as some fun action sequences. There really is something for almost everyone.
Also of particular note is Dave Franco as one of the high schoolers that Hill and Tatum encounter. Though he hasn’t had any staring roles yet, he will probably look very familiar to viewers as he bears a striking resemblance to his older brother James. Clearly there is a lot of talent in that gene pool as Dave does a solid job. The rest of the supporting cast also brings the funny, with the exception of Ice Cube as the officer in charge of Jump Street. He just didn’t work for me.
My knowledge of 21 Jump Street, the TV show, is limited to what I gleamed from reading teen magazines (Tiger Beat, Bop, Teen Beat, Big Bopper – I read them all) while the program was popular. I never actually watched it. I know Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson and Richard Grieco were on it. That’s basically it. So I have no great affinity for the franchise and have no idea if this movie did it justice. There were probably references to the original that I missed. My guess is that the 80s show only provided a jumping off point (pun intended) for the premise of the movie; from there, the writers (including Jonah Hill) made it their own.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Albany gets a brief shout-out in the movie, which was warmly received by the local audience. It takes so little to make us happy.
21 Jump Street isn’t a perfect movie and it certainly isn’t particularly sophisticated. The first act stumbles a bit. But once the boys are undercover, it is relatively smooth sailing. It proves to be a fun popcorn movie that provides plenty of laughs and action. I’m glad my first instincts were proven wrong.
21 Jump Street opens nationwide on Friday March 16th.