Unreal Movie Review: 21 Jump Street

I’m all about cheering for the underdog, and that extends to films as well. The idea of a 21 Jump Street reboot starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill is seemingly as about as dumb of an idea as any Hollywood has come up with in recent years. And that’s saying something when there’s a Battleship movie on deck.

But against all odds, 21 Jump Street manages to embrace its absurdity, poke fun at itself, and show that even the most unlikely of comedy duos can produce a hilarious movie when given the right material to work with.

The premise is the same as  the 1980s TV show that gave a young Johnny Depp his first real role. Two underachieving cops are placed in an undercover program at a high school with the goal of finding out who is supplying a new designer drug that’s making kids OD after a particularly epic trip.


Schmidt (Hill) was a geek in his first run through high school while Jenko (Tatum) was a cool kid whose experience was tainted only by poor academic performance. Though the two have since become fast friends in the police academy, when their undercover identities are mixed up, they must live out each other’s high school experiences with Schmidt posing as a suave jock and Jenko an AP chemistry whiz.

Many of the film’s initial laughs come from how much things have changed in a few short years since their own graduation. Jenko immediately tries to find his alpha male niche, but is perplexed when the cool kids drive Priuses instead of muscle cars and punching a smart kid in the face is a source of shame, particularly if the kid turns out to be gay.

Meanwhile, Schmidt thrives in the environment and finds himself able to easily fit in with the cool kids including the lovely Molly (Brie Larson) and the targeted drug dealer Eric (Dave Franco), as Jenko attempts to bond with the nerds who have inside info of their own.

Never trust a Franco.

Simply put, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make this work. Hill almost doubly so, as he’s responsible for the script as well, but I’d say the acting challenge is greater for Tatum.  This is a role outside his usual action/romance parts, and it’s his first starring role in a comedy.

It’s been a long journey to appreciate Channing Tatum as an actor. I’ve been forced to sit through many of his romantic comedies, and I somehow managed to get through GI Joe without my head exploding, but I’ve found him at his best when he’s being funny. He was the only bright spot in the otherwise atrocious The Dilemma, and here he embraces his own stereotypes to be the ultimate dumb jock lost in a world that’s forgotten how cool he’s supposed to be. You have your Seth Rogens, Jason Segels and Jonah Hills that are all the bastions of “goofy looking dude comedy,” but now Tatum comes along to show that it’s possible for Abercrombie models to have a sense of humor as well.

Needs more doves.

The film is lined with guest stars like Elie Kemper, Rob Riggle and Ice Cube, and I think James’s little brother Dave Franco was perfectly cast here as the granola eating, over-his-head drug dealer. There’s a cameo I knew was coming from the get-go, but when it hits, it’s absolutely one of the film’s best moments.

The fact that this odd cast with this recycled concept was able to produce a movie this genuinely funny is one of the film miracles of the year. It proves Jonah Hill can be humorous skinny as well as tubby, and that Channing Tatum is becoming a significant box office draw between this and The Vow tearing things up this spring.

I’m glad this turned out to be far less dumb than it sounded, and perhaps even in Hollywood’s unfortunate reboot culture, there are still good films to be made.

4 out of 5 stars


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  1. I still can’t believe that Tatum was hilarious, but it definetely worked. He’s easily the worst actor of a generation, but when he plays funny he plays well.

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