A movie based on a tv series that no one really remembers except for it being Johnny Depp's breakthrough role doesn't seem like the best of ideas on paper. Yet the cast and crew behind the 21 Jump Street have provided one of the better comedies in recent memory. Despite only containing a very loose connection to the series it is based on, 21 Jump Street manages to stand on its own, not just as an adaptation but also as a good film.
21 Jump Street follows Officer Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Officer Jenko (Channing Tatum), two inept policemen, as they are reassigned to a division that goes undercover in local high schools and colleges. Schmidt and Jenko are tasked with finding the source of a new drug in one of the high schools.
If you were basing this film on the creative forces involved, you would be even more worried about this film than if you just looked at the title. The film is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs fame) and written by Michael Bacall (who as a screenwriter on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the most experienced of those involved) and Jonah Hill. Yet these four have provided a comedy that seems to have been directed and written by filmmaking veterans. The writing is memorable as it includes funny one-liners and, if you look into it a bit closer, some well executed meta aspects (listen for a reference to ideas in Hollywood being recycled over and over again). The directors and writers also have a great sense of staging some of the bigger moments (including two of the most memorable car chases of any genre in recent memory and at least two other moments where you will have trouble breathing from your laughter). The most important thing that these four did, however, was almost completely ditching the original tv series, and trying to form their own creation.
The biggest surprise in the film is actually Channing Tatum. Tatum has to this point been the leading man that everyone in Hollywood wants to change into a star. Yet he has failed miserably over and over again. Just as I’m about to completely give up on this guy, he reveals himself to be a strong comedic actor. That boring actor that can normally be found in stale chick flicks is nowhere to be found, and an energetic and surprising performance emerges. Yet Tatum never at any point steals the show as Jonah Hill more than keeps up with him. On the heels of a fantastic dramatic turn in Moneyball, Hill is becoming one of the more interesting actors in Hollywood. While this performance heads back into familiar territory for Hill, it never seems like he is doing something that he has done before. These two are surrounded by a plethora of great supporting turns. Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, and Rob Riggle are memorable scene-stealers. Dave Franco gives a lot to an almost thankless role and Brie Larson gives a performance that deserves some attention from casting directors of bigger blockbusters.
There are no doubt some problems with this film (the film tends to throw every style of comedy at the audience to see what sticks but never decides which style it wants to stay with), but 21 Jump Street may be the best comedy since The Hangover.