Just how funny is 21 Jump Street? I first saw the film two weeks ago. Since then, not only have I seen it another time but I’ve also burst out laughing on numerous occasions just because I remembered some random line or gag from the movie.
So, yeah: I’d say it’s very funny.
The 1987 TV show (famous for making Johnny Depp famous, among other accomplishments) on which the film is based was an earnest and serious police procedural. The film, however, uses the concept of the show as a jumping board and fashions itself into a raunchy high school comic caper. Schmidt (a nerd, played by Jonah Hill) and Jenko (a jock, played by Channing Tatum) weren’t friends in high school but bonded during police training to the extent that they become partners. Their ineptness on their first arrest leads to them being inducted into a covert program peopled by young-looking officers whose jobs are to infiltrate schools for solving cases involving teens. They are sent to find out a gang that’s supplying students with a potent drug. But the biggest challenge facing them is that when they pick up their school bags again, they realize a lot has changed in the seven years since school. And therein lies the fun.
Channing Tatum is 32 years old. You may find it preposterous to even entertain the notion of him playing a high-school student. You’d be right. And the film is aware of that. That sense of awareness is what makes 21 Jump Street so much fun. It uses stereotypes like the fat nerd, the hulking jock and the sassy black guy (among others) and jokes about those personalities but does so in a tongue firmly in cheek manner that makes them much more effective. There are sequences in this film that are literally laugh-out-loud hilarious; I laughed so hard at a sequence depicting the protagonists’ use of the drug that I had tears in my eyes by the end of it. From visual gags like title cards to one-liners (oh, so many one-liners) to simple things like the name of the gang the heroes are chasing: 21 Jump Street is packed with things to make you laugh.
But the greatest material can fall flat if not performed well. In a film like this, more than anything, it’s the chemistry between the various players that can make-or-break the entire venture. And, thankfully, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have it in spades. They make you believe their characters could be best friends in real life and that by itself sells the movie. Even if I tried I couldn’t pick who among the two I preferred; they are just that good. With The Vow (he was the best thing in the otherwise-mediocre movie), this and Magic Mike later in the year, this looks set to be the year of the Tatum – something I now have no problem with. Brie Larson plays another stereotype. From the first time you see her on-screen (giggling while riding a cycle), it’s apparent what she’s there for. But she’s good enough to overcome that. Dave Franco is very good as Eric, The Popular Kid in School. He plays his character with a frat boy vibe to him that really works. His deadpan delivery of an already-funny line towards the end is one of the most hilarious bits in the film. However, the MVP of the film is Ice Cube, who plays the foul-mouthed boss of the protagonists (his name I won’t spoil, for it’s a great joke in itself) and kills every line he has.
There are just a few things I didn’t like. The prologue, a scene set when Jenko and Schmidt were actually in high school, is clunky. Sometimes the film relies a bit too much on easy jokes, which A) aren’t very funny and B) a damn shame since the film is mostly quite smart. On second viewing, I also noticed that the film sags a little in the middle. And there’s some iffy CGI in a crucial action sequence that’s so fake it brought me out of the moment in a flash.But these are all minor complaints that are mere trifles when compared to the things the films does get right. They wouldn’t come even remotely close to stopping me from recommending it to everyone.
21 Jump Street has two affable leads with superb chemistry giving great performances while being surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, all of whom chime in with enough zingers to make you guffaw dozens of times in less than two hours. Go see it.
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Photo Credit: Columbia Tristar