’21 Jump Street (2012)’- Throwback Review: The Funniest Comedy of the 2010s

Here’s a lesson every studio needs to learn when working in Hollywood: If you’re going to remake a classic television series everyone might be familiar with, especially if they aired in the 20th century, the best idea to turn into a comedy. Why? Because there’s a possibility it could be a great time for everybody involved. Case in point, you inspect 21 Jump Street and see if this translation can even compare to its counterpart.

What’s the Story: Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) weren’t the best of friends when they attended high school together since one was a jock and the other a geek. Total opposites. After training in the police academy and helping each other out with their struggles, they’ve become cops, but they aren’t getting any action in their field. Their latest drug bust didn’t go well, so they are then reassigned to a revived program called 21 Jump Street since they ran out of ideas. Once there, they are to go undercover as high school students as they set out to infiltrate who’s selling students a new synthetic drug called H.F.S. after someone who took the drug died, and with them hoping to recapture the glory days of the good old days, high school isn’t like it used to be.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street (2012)

I was aware of the television series created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell that ran for five seasons from 1987 to 91 on Fox, but I’ve never watched a single episode. All I knew was that it involved undercover cops, and it made Johnny Depp a superstar. But when I heard they were going to revamp it with the guys who made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) with Channing Tatum in the co-lead, this sounded like it was going to be a disaster. I thought it was a lazy idea. They only made it worse by it becoming an action-comedy, unlike the series to where it’s a serious teen drama. In the early days of 2012, thus far, there hasn’t been a comedy that reached its potential. That was until this was released in theaters, and I couldn’t believe how surprisingly great this was walking out remembering every funny detail attached to it. I love 21 Jump Street!

Lord and Miller are a well-known directing duo now, but this was when their names would become huge since they did an awesome job directing, especially when it needs to switch over to action. And I love Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by the way, but knowing this was their first live-action film is very impressive. What they and scriptwriter Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) did throughout was making the film cool for an audience that knows to show and introducing it to its R-rated comedy demographic. That’s because this a mix of the buddy cop comedy and a high school movie into one that worked on every level it reached. It never becomes tried since it came off as fresh when watching everything in its two hours. Since it made fun of itself often for being a reboot or an action movie, this does nearly every cliche in the book without playing dumb on the audience. They even know how unoriginal everything is and decided to do the titular program again since people wouldn’t notice. One of the funniest examples was when they expected something to explode during the freeway chase the first two times, but the last time was very unexpected that was not only stupid but hilarious. Probably the best example of “Rule of Three.”

Hearing the two leads would be Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum already made me nervous since I didn’t know if they would make a good pairing. Thankfully, it wasn’t a problem because both of them gave great performances and had the funniest chemistry when their characters Schmidt and Jenko played off each other. Never in a million years would I ever find that a good thing. And they also play into how they don’t even look close to be high school age. Hill, who also helped with the story, was still a comedic star I was hopeful of, even when he lost all that weight, and he came in like a tornado of comedy, making this his funniest performance since Superbad. And because of this movie, this made me respect Tatum as an actor. Honestly, he never impressed me back then with the roles he took, but 2012 was the best year for changes since this and Magic Mike (The Vow doesn’t count) made me see him in a new life, this is definitely his best performance that shines. There were even moments where it was funnier than his co-star. Who would’ve thought? This made me want to see him in more comedic roles.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street (2012)

You can look at this as these underachieving cops going undercover, but the story has the chance to see these two friends relive high school except Schmidt is now hanging out with the popular kids rather than being a geek, and Jenko falls in with the nerds instead of being the meat-head jock. It also deals with the balance of friendship and how fitting into a different crowd could make things challenging when taking a job seriously. As someone who was starting high school when this came out, it was interesting to see everything done differently, throwing off expectations. If I was an undercover cop and was forced to be someone else at my old high school, I would hate it. But it could be cool to be with the popular crowd. Also, I couldn’t believe I was one-strapping for most of my freshman year. What an idiot I was.

As for how the movie would bring in the funny, I was honestly expecting to gain a few chuckles here and there, but it’s been a while since I couldn’t stop laughing at jokes that were over after a minute. This was freakin’ hilarious from start to finish, and I didn’t want it to end. I haven’t laughed this hard at a comedy in over a year for a straightforward comedy since Bridesmaids. It’s so fast-paced and hilarious at every scene with non-stop laugh out loud moments with the jokes hitting quickly. The moment where the guys are tripping out after taking the drug kept me smiling all the way through, and it should teach those to never take drugs of any kind. Even the self-aware humor was smartly written with the situations we would usually see in movies like this. The anticipation for a new joke was killing me, especially when I re-watch it. Watching it on television nowadays doesn’t feel the same when it skips the profanity.

Ice Cube, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street (2012)

Everybody else in the supporting roles didn’t disappoint. This was the funniest I’ve seen Ice Cube in a very long time. He plays Captain Dickson, the police captain who runs Jump Street and plays the stereotypical angry black captain who yells all the time and busts the pair’s balls every time. The best part about that is he even acknowledges it with his introduction. Brie Larson as the adorable Molly, Schmit’s love interest, stretches her comedic chops a bit in here, and I thought the chemistry between her and Hill was cute, in my opinion. And who wouldn’t be smitten over someone like Larson? Those who hate her for pathetic reasons. And Dave Franco was also in this as Eric, the one who hooks up with the drugs, and this was the first time I ever took notice he was the little brother of James. 

You know, if there were any problems, there aren’t many since I can merely judge a comedy based on how many laughs got out of me. The story is predictable where it doesn’t throw in too many surprises and you see things coming a mile away, but that didn’t stop my overall enjoyment.

Before this, we’ve seen a lot of TV adaptations that have not worked well when being translated to the big screen. How long did the casual audience have to take to get a good one that wasn’t The Dukes of Hazzard or I Spy and get a memorable one just like The Fugitive or a guilty pleasure like Starsky & Hutch? Sometimes, it’s hard to re-capture what people liked on the small screen and make it modern enough for a new audience to latch onto. The result of this made is a knock-out. Because if you’re one of those who watched the series for a long time wanting the most authentic treatment of it done right, you probably won’t like it since it doesn’t go the route many would expect.

Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Dave Franco in 21 Jump Street (2012)

Because of the success with critics and at the box office, it helped earned a worthy follow-up with 22 Jump Street, which I can easily consider it the best comedy sequel in the world. No debate. 

To reiterate, I thought I would walk out hating this, but in the end, 21 Jump Street is not only one of the best comedies to come out in a long time, but one of the very best adaptations. Action-packed, full-on hilarious, and completely acknowledges what it is without taking it seriously, it’s a huge win, which is thanks to Lord & Miller and its performances of Hill and Tatum. While many unforgettable movies have come out from the genre later on in the year, none of them came close to the brilliance that was this movie nobody thought needed, but glad we did. This is one of those top ten comedies of mine that I can always watch whenever I need the confrontation to lift my mood to an eleven.

Grade: A-

21 Jump Street Movie Poster

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