By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, and Dave Franco
Unless you have lived under a rock, you would see that there have been many attempts to bring parts of older peoples’ childhood to the big screen. All with varying degrees of success. There have been the almost shot for shot remakes (2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street) and bringing characters into the modern age (2005’s very uneven Bewitched). This week, it seems that hot off an Oscar nomination Jonah Hill (who co-wrote 21 Jump Street with Michael Bacall) has taken a totally different (and, dare I say, original) approach. He has set his particular remake around circumstances of irony. He knows that it is ironic to have Ice Cube, once a part of NWA, one of the most controversial rap groups of all time that famously came out with a song called “F*** The Police,” in here as the chief of their operations within 21 Jump Street. He knows that it is ironic to have the characters portrayed by Hill and Tatum told by their superior officer that “even though people are going to think it’s dumb, we are revamping this idea back from the 80s, no matter what they think.” And, Hill knows that it is ironic having Tatum, one of the most wooden actors in modern memory, cast as probably the more sympathetic of the two characters. Ironically, the final result of this hybrid of ideas is one of the most original and funniest scripts I have seen portrayed onscreen in years, and, combined with a set of surprisingly brutal action set pieces, made for a great time at the movies.
The film revolves around Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), two guys who were on opposite ends of the popularity spectrum back in their high school days in 2005. Jenko (with his long hair) can even be seen laughing at Schmidt when he is shot down asking a girl out to the prom. Cut to 7 years later. Now, they are going through cop training, and both land as partners in bicycle cop duty. However, a video of a kid wigging out on a new drug distributed in high school gets the two back in the elements where we were introduced to them. And, after a little case of mistaken identity, they both get to live the lives the other led way back when. The storyline is interesting in that it could have been told within the context of a movie that is not based on an 80s TV show. But, Hill and Bacall take it to the next level and weave what turns out to be a pretty nifty little tale. They nabbed the two directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Chris Miller), who keep the tone light, and even fit in a few surprisingly violent action scenes (with one giving a nice call back to Tarantino’s old adage of the’ stand-off in a room’). They have also surrounded the film with a cast that is almost spot on. As already stated, Tatum does excellent in his role of Jenko (a character named after an actor from the original TV show, by the way). He has to go from popular jock in high school to chemistry (is that the one with the shapes?) nerd today and, you know what? He does pretty well in both. An almost unrecognizable Hill is great as Schmidt, a mistaken for a ‘track star’ nerd who also is on the brink of landing the girl (Larson). On the subject of the girl, Larson was excellent, bringing her TV chops to this role and really making you feel for her on more than one occasion. The only person I found almost unendingly annoying was Riggle, who in his role as teacher Mr. Walters just made me cringe every time he was onscreen with his snarkiness and line deliveries.
Surprisingly, the one who was the big highlight to me was Ice Cube. After lingering in Barber Shop movies and family fare for over a decade, he is perhaps the most entertaining he has ever been here. From calling himself out as ‘the angry black boss’ to rants that had me almost falling out of my seat, Cube proves here that he can be hilarious when need be. But, really. When you have a good script, it brings out the best in everybody. And, as pessimistic as I was going into this thing, it felt great to be pleasantly surprised by all involved. Oh, and as far as the cameos in 21 Jump Street go: I am not going to divulge them in this review. But, let me just say fans of the old TV show (give me a shout out, fellow geezers) will not be disappointed in spotting their favorites (and not just the obvious one. Although, I did laugh more in his 6 minute scene than I did in all the Pirates films combined). Even with a few jokes that fall flat (especially one of the final lines of the movie); this film is one hell of a good time. Go see it, if only to see the ongoing struggle to remember the Miranda rights. Because, ironically…they never seem to forget them in the movies. Or, do they?
4 out of 5