- Vancouver, British Columbia - At times, it appears that Hollywood has run out of new ideas. Old television series have been re-hashed for film adaptations, when the originals weren't that great to begin with. Worse sometimes, the film adaptation was even worse; you know who you are, Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky and Hutch. You know it is bad when an old board game like Battleship is turned into a movie, which bares very little resemblance to the original game itself. 21 Jump Street is another foray into old ideas, this time by MGM, who hopes to develop a new franchise out of something that once was. Was it needed? Not so sure. Should we be surprised? Definitely not.
21 Jump Street is a film about two guys, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), who grew up in the same high school in very difference circles. Greg was one of the popular, good-looking kids, who picked on fat, smart nerds like Morton. Fast forward to the future where they find themselves both in the police academy. Greg is really great at the physical aspects of the police academy training, but with the theoretical matters, he is a moron. Morton, however, is a genius and could do the theoretical training in his sleep, but since he was a fat nerd in high school, he still struggles to breathe after two seconds of exertion. Miraculously, the two graduate from the police academy after teaming up together to ensure their success. This positive relationship leads to them being paired as a unit covering the park patrol on bikes. No, not motorcycles, but the foot-powered kind. When they managed to flop at this task, they are assigned to a newly restarted division to work as undercover teenagers in a high school, charged with finding the suppliers and the source of a new drug going around that is to blame for several teens' deaths.
There is a lot to like about the chemistry between Tatum and Hill. Most are probably used to watching Tatum either romance some attractive woman in an overly unrealistic love story, or else kicking some bad guy butt in an action film. His work in a comedy like 21 Jump Street was a bit of a risk for him to take, but as we see in this film, it was a necessary and wise risk. Hill brings his familiar brand of comedy, which is mostly based upon his delivery. While his breakout work in Superbad was strong for someone just breaking out in the business, it can get tiring when it repeated past its expiration date, but in 21 Jump Street, his character is given some more room to breathe, as he explores new possibilities. It is difficult to capture in words what exactly works about the chemistry between Tatum and Hill, but the two just seem to balance each other so well that it is a good fit.
There are a variety of legitimately funny moments in this film, which provide a good number of laughs. Some of it is in the same vein of Superbad, which I'll admit is not my brand of humour. What I couldn't make up my mind about was the occasional use of meta-humour in the film. I'm not such a fan when films reference previous film clichés or character stereotypes, as it is a jarring moment in the narrative of the film. Not that I think many in the audience would ever make the mistake of getting so lost in a film like 21 Jump Street that they forget that it is just a film, but it takes away the opportunity for the audience to simply get lost in the experience by reminding the audience that it is just a film. Films like Naked Gun or Airplane can get away with it, because there is no assumption that they are trying to make a serious film, but the filmmakers of 21 Jump Street are trying to make a legitimate film. I suppose it can work sometimes, but it is something that I don't think has a strong comedic pay off unless mastered perfectly. We all know about travesties like Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, or Disaster Movie.
The cameos in the film were great, particularly at the end. I'll maintain the surprise subjects of the cameos for your own enjoyment, but they were very well placed. It took a situation that was already over the top and simply made it even more insane. With all of that said though, the resolution of the film isn't the most satisfying. It sets up for a potential sequel, which has already been reported as having been green-lit. I'm not sure that this film or the characters merit another film's worth of examination. I get it, Hollywood is always looking for new franchises to develop, but making a sequel for 21 Jump Street feels unnecessary. As good as the chemistry was between Hill and Tatum, I can't help but wonder if it would be ruined by trying to milk it for another go.
21 Jump Street is an entertaining and funny film, which will provide a good number of laughs. It isn't the cleanest film, so the sensitive best avoid it, but if you can stomach it, you'll more than likely enjoy it. It's a worthy tribute to the original television series, though it takes it in a completely different direction. Diehard fans of the original series might find some of the changes off-putting, but let's be honest; it wasn't like the original was that great to begin with. 21 Jump Street is a light film, which probably won't disappoint provided you don't place unrealistic expectations, so give it a go if you want a quick laugh.
Rating: 3/5 Sour Grapes