Academy Award-nominee Jonah Hill sure has come a long way up the comedic ladder. While a regular scene-stealer in just about anything Judd Apatow touches, he’s never been as on the ball as he is here with his own rendition of 21 Jump Street. Creators Stephen J. Cannell and Patrick Hasburgh may have wrung five seasons out of their series, but here’s hoping for a new cinematic franchise. While some may balk about a revamping of yet another canceled ’80s TV show, what Jonah Hill (who shares story credit with screenwriter Michael Bacall) has pulled out of his hat is a mix of Hot Fuzz, The Other Guys, and even a sprinkling of The Lonely Island.
That last one may at first glance seems more of a coincidence. But one scene in particular really focuses your attention back on the fact that the film’s directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were the masterminds behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. There they brought a slew of inventiveness to the world of computer-animated family fare. And considering that film featured Andy Samberg brings us right back to The Lonely Island (particularly Hot Rod) since they were both executive producers of their Awesometown TV shorts, so now it all makes perfect sense.
In the new 21 Jump Street, we begin in 2005 where Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are high school seniors and couldn’t be more different. While Schmidt walks around with his Eminem styled hair sporting a mouth full of hardwire, Jenko can’t help himself with being the F-grade flunky his principal knew he’d wind up being. Turns out now that Jenko is banned from prom and Schmidt has no one to go with after his hot neighbor turns him down in front of Jenko in the hallway. Springing forward to the present, Schmidt and Jenko wind up at the same police academy and decide to become friends since Jenko is good at the physical elements and Schmidt is all brains.
Upon graduation, they think it’s finally their time to kick some ass, but instead they wind up as a couple of bike cops at the local park. After they try to take down some cocaine wielding bikers and forget to read one his Miranda rights, a technicality sets him free. Now Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) sends them off to a program canceled in the ’80s and they are to report to a particular address that’s right on the tip of his tongue. In a defunct Korean church (complete with its own Korean Jesus) lies a program full of undercover cops who are all young looking enough to pass as high school students.
It’s all part of a program to infiltrate local high schools to route out illegal activity, overseen by the always angry Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). Now Schmidt and Jenko are undercover at Schmidt’s parents’ (Caroline Aaron and Joe Chrest) house and they’re trying to track down the culprits behind the new drug, HFS after one student, Billiam Willingham (Johnny Simmons) dies. Soon enough, Schmidt and Jenko are up to their elbows in high school students, trying to fit in, but finding just how different things are now. The nerds are the new cool kids and the jocks have fallen down the social ladder. But can Schmidt and Jenko’s new friendship withstand the bond they’ve made as Schmidt gets popular and starts getting friendly with Molly Tracey (Brie Larson) while winding up as HFS’s best dealer, working under Eric Molson (Dave Franco, yes, brother of James). And why won’t flammables explode during high speed chases?
Thank you, Michael Bacall. Thank you for showing us that your last writing debacle (Project X) was just a blip on your otherwise nice little resume. It seems that being friends with Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright actually has managed to pay off. If anyone was ever going to “want” an Americanized remake of Wright’s brilliant Hot Fuzz, consider this compensation of sorts. While we all know no one in their right mind would truly ever ask for that, at least it shows that Bacall learned a thing or two while co-writing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Bacall also brought along a few of his Scott Pilgrim friends as well, in the likes of Larson (Envy Adams) and Simmons (Young Neil).
In the meantime, does everything work? Not exactly. But is the film hilarious? Without a doubt. While at times you may think they’re about to run a particular joke into the ground, they always find a way to either make you laugh until you cry or let it go only to bring it back later as a hilarious punchline. And alas, if you were looking for cameos from the original series, the most recognizable belongs to Holly Robinson Peete. So if you’re wondering if the film is worth the ticket? Most definitely. While I may have had plenty of love to share for last month’s Wanderlust, as charming as that was I have no reservations proclaiming 21 Jump Street the funniest film of the year so far.
Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures