5 Reasons Why “21 Jump Street” Isn’t as Bad as It Looks

20 Mar

If you’ve seen the promotional campaign for the big-screen reboot of 21 Jump Street, then you probably think it looks pretty bad.

That’s what I thought, too.

But then I saw the movie and was pleasantly surprised. It’s actually pretty good.

(Yes, I know that’s damning with faint praise.)

This flick had a lot of factors going against it, so I figured I would share the five things that are working for it, and that make 21 Jump Street worth seeing.

1. The setup

When Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) went to high school, one was dorky and the other was a dumb jock, and they were on opposite sides of the social hierarchy. Seven years later, the two are friends and police officers who are given the assignment to go back to high school and masquerade as students to bust a drug ring.

Except high school isn’t what it used to be, and now the cool kids aren’t the jocks but the eco-conscious theater geeks — and the nerds aren’t so bad either. (The film says you can blame Glee for the changed social structure. Either way, it’s not a bad commentary on the changed nature of high school dynamics.)

Thanks to a mix-up (Schmidt and Jenko can’t even remember their own fake names), the guys end up in their opposite comfort zones and find high school isn’t such a bad place to be after all.

2. Channing Tatum is actually funny

On Saturday Night Live recently, Tatum did himself no favors. But here, he actually shows a skill for comedy, and legitimately earns a lot of laughs. It takes a smart actor to convincingly play dumb. Don’t be surprised if you see Tatum in more comedies in the future.

3. Johnny Depp makes a cameo

If nothing else, the original TV show was known for being the launching pad of a young actor named Johnny Depp. (Maybe you’ve heard of him.) Giving the film extra credibility is Depp’s memorable cameo. If this was a bad movie, I doubt he’d have taken part.

But he’s not alone: Other original Jump Streeters Holly Robinson Peete and Peter DeLuise pop up along the way too — though I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you where, when, or how.

4. A strong supporting cast

Ice Cube plays the gruff, angry police captain who heads up the Jump Street unit. His performance is amusingly over the top, and one that helps the film to tweak or satirize some stereotypes.

Another is Dave Franco’s drug dealer, who is apparently now the most popular kid in school. Franco displays a touch of the same weird sensibility that’s marked the career of his brother, James.

5. Some decent laughs

Whether it’s when the guys are on bicycles and are being outrun by perps, or when they’re getting delayed gratification when expected explosions don’t happen during a car chase, or when they’re explaining that “You have the right to be an attorney” may not be a Miranda right, but it’s still a right you have, 21 Jump Street will make you laugh — often and without regret.

Kudos go to screenwriter Michael Bacall, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), and yes, Jonah Hill, who gets a story credit with Bacall.

Bottom line

21 Jump Street is no classic. But it’s better than it has any right to be, and because it’s such a pleasant surprise, I’m giving the film a B.

Have you seen 21 Jump Street? What did you think? Share your comments below.

4 Responses to “5 Reasons Why “21 Jump Street” Isn’t as Bad as It Looks”

  1. CMrok93 March 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Hill and Tatum are great together here and add a lot to this film’s comedy but it’s just the way it is all written that makes it even richer. It’s making fun of those high school comedy conventions but at the same time, is inventing it’s own as it goes on. Great review. Give mine a look when you can.

    • Martin Lieberman March 24, 2012 at 11:31 am #

      Thanks, Dan! I agree about the screenplay … and I appreciate you leaving a comment. As you’ve seen, I’ve read and commented on your review as well.


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