x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fun buddy-cop comedy 21 Jump Street piles on the crude jokes

Not all the gags work, but 21 Jump Street offers enough to make you chuckle, with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum making for an appealing odd couple.

Channing Tatum, left, and Jonah Hill in Columbia Pictures' 21 Jump Street. Photo by Scott Garfield
Channing Tatum, left, and Jonah Hill in Columbia Pictures' 21 Jump Street. Photo by Scott Garfield

21 Jump Street
Directors:
Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brie Larson, Dave Franco
***

If you know anything about 21 Jump Street, it's that it was the TV show that gave Johnny Depp his big break. Running from 1987 for four years, it saw a bunch of good-looking young cops go undercover at schools to solve crimes. Phil Lord and Chris Miller's reboot picks the bare bones of this idea, then turns it into a bawdy buddy comedy tailor-made for the Superbad set.

While employing the directors behind the offbeat kids' cartoon Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a neat trick, the really smart move was hiring Jonah Hill. The Oscar nominee for best supporting role in Moneyball is better known for spearheading many of the Judd Apatow-produced comedies of late, including Superbad. Co-writing with Michael Bacall, Hill sprays his unique lewd-but-loveable persona all over the script like it was fertiliser.

More akin to the Police Academy series (well, the good ones) than the original 21 Jump Street, the film sees Hill play Schmidt, a rookie cop who gets reassigned to the eponymous unit (so called because it's the address of the abandoned church where they're based) after a botched drugs bust. Schmidt is saddled with fellow flop Jenko (Channing Tatum) and their first case has them returning to their old high school to bring down the source behind a new designer drug, being peddled by the too-cool student Eric (Dave Franco).

As we see in the prologue, Schmidt was the overweight outcast with the Eminem haircut ("the not so Slim Shady"), while Jenko was the typical meathead bully. But now, high school is different from how they remember it. Suddenly, it's cool to be eco-friendly, tolerant and caring - an attitude that bamboozles Jenko. Schmidt, meanwhile, finds his popularity skyrocket, not least with his fellow drama student Molly (Brie Larson).

Packed with welcome faces - Ellie Kemper (Erin in The Office) plays a teacher lusting for Jenko's abs, the rap star Ice Cube is the ball-busting police captain - the result is a hyperkinetic rush of action and gags. If some moments collapse (not least a running joke about cars failing to explode until … boom!), there's enough here to make you chuckle, from the boys sampling the highs of illegal narcotics to Hill dressed in a Peter Pan costume.

Although the relentless vehicle pile-ups and crass jokes get a bit much, Hill and Tatum make an appealing odd couple - the latter handling his comic duties with ease. There's even a not-to-be-missed cameo in the finale, though this aside, 21 Jump Street wisely shows just the right amount of disregard for the original. And that, it seems, is the secret of a good remake.