21 Jump Street: So Fun, It Should be Illegal

“21 Jump Street” may be the perfect example of how to reboot an aged franchise that – let’s be frank here – was silly to begin with.

The key is to not take itself too seriously and use the revival to explore the changes in the world since the source material.

The biggest key, though? Fun. Have fun.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as two incompetent police officers sent to high school to investigate drug sales seem like they’re having so much fun making the movie, you just can’t help but have fun too.

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) both graduated from the same high school, Schmidt a lonely, bullied nerd and Jenko a brainless jock. Teaming up in the police academy, they make a perfect team. With Schmidt’s brains and Jenko’s brawn, together they almost make one competent police officer.

Almost.

When they triumphantly arrest their first perp – after a slow speed bike pursuit – they forget to read him his Miranda rights, what with all the crowing and dancing and firing bullets into the air to celebrate. Off the perp goes back to the streets, and the dazzling duo go off to 21 Jump Street, the sadly pathetic undercover division.

Led by Captain Dickson, played by Ice Cube in a brilliantly subversive and funny “angry black captain” role, the unit infiltrates the scariest place of all – high school.

Returning to their alma mater seven years later, Schmidt and Jenko find everything has changed. The muscle-bound, hot-car-driving, coolly indifferent jock that reigned supreme in teen hierarchy has been replaced by strident, sensitive, eco-passionate neo-hippies.

Suddenly Schmidt is cool and Jenko is the dork. The world is turned. Right side up is upside down, black is white, and – most shocking of all – getting good grades is in.

Drugs are still bad, though, mostly. The boys must find a dealer at the school and determine his supplier.

The film succeeds by turning everything in the source material upside down, shaking it, and tickling it until it giggles. It makes fun of itself, at one point having a police captain rail on about how no one has any new ideas so they’re going back to a failed program from the ‘80s. Is he talking about police methods or Hollywood’s obsession with reviving 80’s franchises? Equally fun, and at times downright shocking, are cameos from a few original cast members.

Jonah Hill, fresh off his Oscar nomination for “Moneyball,” a serious role, demonstrates again why he’s a rising threat in Hollywood, delivering lines consistently funny and yet sweetly vulnerable. Channing Tatum, however, is the real revelation. There’s a comic actor behind all that sappy beefcake we’ve been seeing.

The film keeps its fresh and funny perspective going throughout the movie, from a car chase in which dramatic explosions are consistently set up only to fail to blow to a hilarious car chase done in stretch limos (the prom is involved) in which they spoof the iconic dream of drunk girls everywhere to stand up through the moonroof.

Did I mention drunk girls? Yes. There are many of them. Drinking, smoking, sex, drugs, and foul language are the bread and butter of this movie. The humor is crude, the obscenities are relentless, and the movie isn’t above shooting off someone’s private parts. Drug culture is never really repudiated. The bad part of doing drugs seems to be that sometimes the drugs are too strong and people die. So it’s really a dosage issue and nothing else.

Needless to say, it’s rated R and runs in the vein of the crude comedies of Judd Apatow or “Bridesmaids.”

It’s not your father’s 1987 broadcast FCC-approved “21 Jump Street.”

It will appeal to teens, but it makes me sad to think of teens being jaded enough to watch it.

If, however, an adult enjoys the gross-out, crude humor of these types of movies (and I’m not judging), this is an excellent example.

I have to admit, I laughed harder than I have in months.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey


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