By Vinnie Abbatecola
High school is a time people either yearn to relive or put aside without further contemplation. It’s a society filled with boundless opportunities that will help shape the person you will become. It’s a four-year period of living in the moment and embracing your youth. But every high school class has its differences, and those distinctions become more eye-opening as years go by.
This is what Schmidt (Jonah Hill, Superbad) and Jenko (Channing Tatum, Step Up) quickly realize in the comedy 21 Jump Street, which is based on the 1987 television series of the same name. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it’s a modernization of the show that satirically notes how much high school has changed since the film’s two inept heroes’ time there.
In 2005, Schmidt was never a popular student in high school, and he couldn’t seem to ask a girl out to the prom without stammering. Jenko was the thick-headed jock who didn’t miss a chance to humiliate him. Now, they are both older and are enrolled in the same police academy, where they become friends after Jenko offers to make Schmidt more physically fit and Schmidt offers to help Jenko pass his police exams. Once they graduate, police life isn’t at all what they had hoped. They are stuck riding police bikes as they patrol a park.
When an attempted arrest goes awry, the two are sent to a covert division at 21 Jump Street that includes young cops who, because of their youthful appearances, are sent into high schools to take down crime. Schmidt and Jenko are sent back to their old high school with orders to investigate a new synthetic drug that is being circulated. They are told to make friends with the dealers and identify the suppliers. But with high school having changed since they experienced it, there are some challenges and dangers brewing.
Tatum brings one of the biggest surprises to the film as he proves that he has a knack for comedic delivery. Everything from his “I don’t get it” facial expressions to his quotable dialogue, such as the way he pronounces the AP in AP Chemistry as “app,” brings huge laughs to his comically dense character.
The film has its amusing squad of supporting characters that occupies the school and police department. It includes Chris Parnell (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) as a peculiar drama teacher, Rob Riggle (The Hangover) as an immature gym instructor, Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids) who can’t seem to keep her mind or hands off of Tatum’s character and Dave Franco as a drug-dealing and eco-friendly student. Ice Cube (Friday) is a scene-stealer as the loud, in-your-face captain of the 21 Jump Street crew who has the attitude of a hard-nosed drill sergeant and advises his young cops to embrace their stereotypes. There are also a few surprising cameos from the television show’s original cast.
Michael Bacall’s screenplay along with Lord and Miller’s direction create an exuberant mix of the high school and action film subgenres. One of the best scenes is when Schmidt and Jenko are on the first day of their new assignment. They begin to walk across the parking lot and make several observations comparing the appearances of the students and how they present themselves. What they witness is so different from what they lived through that it’s a culture shock.
21 Jump Street has a blazingly fun dose of action, especially for a comedy. There is a car and motorcycle chase with a menacing biker gang, and there’s a little bit of grand theft auto involved. Also, on a prom night unlike any other, there is a showdown in a hotel suite and a three-limo chase, both of which result in bullets flying.
Underneath all of the excitement is a story about two individuals who use not only their crime fighting to take down illegal activity in the high school setting, but also use it as a second chance to accomplish what they never did back when they were in school together the first time around. As a trip back to high school for the audience, 21 Jump Street is a wild homecoming.