’21 Jump Street’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:17 pm,

Jonah Hill Channing Tatum 21 Jump Street 21 Jump Street Review

21 Jump Street excels at toying with the audience’s expectations.

When film buffs first heard that the iconic 1980s TV series, 21 Jump Street – about a baby-faced undercover police force that specializes in investigating crimes perpetuated at High Schools and colleges – reactions were largely negative. The backlash was due, at least in part, to the number of underwhelming franchise remakes that Hollywood has been churning out over the last few years (Miami Vice and Starsky and Hutch come to mind). However, other would-be moviegoers were simply skeptical of how producers would handle the 21 Jump Street property – specifically fan-favorite character, Officer Tom Hanson, who was played by a pre-Edward Scissorhands Johnny Depp.

Then, even the most skeptical move buffs stopped and took notice when directing team, Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) were hired on for the project and cast oddball pair Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in lead roles (neither one plays Hanson). So, does Lord and Miller’s 21 Jump Street remake ultimately offer up an entertaining trip to the theater that 21 Jump Street fans and non-fans can both enjoy?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. The film certainly takes its own approach to the 21 Jump Street source material, but it does so knowingly and with a lot of tongue in cheek humor – there’s even a joke about repackaging something old and reselling it to the same people again and again. As a result, 21 Jump Street excels at toying with the audience’s expectations. While plot developments adhere to an archetypal 80s format (making the overarching storyline pretty predictable), the various action and comedy scenes are full of surprises.

Ice Cube 21 Jump Street 21 Jump Street Review

Ice Cube, Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum in ’21 Jump Street’

The success of the film will largely depend on what moviegoers might be expecting from a 21 Jump Street remake – as this is most definitely not a “gritty” or “grounded” update to the basic premise. Lord and Miller’s Jump Street is unapologetic in attempting to be a laugh-a-minute riff on the absurdity of the source material’s undercover cops in high school storyline. In the remake, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) reconnect years after they graduated from the same high school, and together, the pair successfully complete the rigors of police academy – with Schmidt overseeing their studies and Jenko in charge of their physical training. However, when the two botch their first actual arrest, they’re kicked over to Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), who runs a covert police operation placing youthful-looking (and immature acting) officers in schools and universities to infiltrate crime organizations. Without anywhere else to go, and looking for a chance at redemption (and/or to be cool in high school), Schmidt and Jenko sign on at 21 Jump Street.

Some moviegoers were skeptical about the casting of Hill and Tatum – considering that both actors have had headlined their share of cinematic duds (The Sitter and Stop-Loss, respectively). Hill in particular is often known for roles that rely on over-the-top gross-out humor – a standard that the 21 Jump Street marketing team was eager to embrace. However, while 21 Jump Street does have plenty of low-brow comedy moments, there’s also an abundance of sharper gags that will sing even for viewers who might be turned off by penis jokes.

As a result, Hill is noticeably at home with the 21 Jump Street subject matter, playing an awkward and irreverent “high schooler” trying to fit in. While Schmidt is nothing we haven’t seen from the actor before, combined with Tatum’s Jenko, audiences will get to see Hill’s familiar shtick play against a very different sidekick – resulting in a number of laugh-out-loud gags. Tatum, who usually plays muscled tough guys (see: Haywire and G.I. Joe, among others) and/or charming lover boys (The Vow) has a surprising talent for comedy – and the actor not only keeps up with Hill’s fast-paced timing, he also brings a lot of heart to the Jenko character (which is somewhat lacking in this particular version of Hill’s awkward guy formula).

Not So Slim Shady Jonah Hill 21 Jump Street 21 Jump Street Review

Retro Jenko and Schmidt from ’21 Jump Street’

Side characters like Tracey (Brie Larson) and Eric (Dave Franco) are enjoyable to watch at first – as they play against Jenko and Schmidt’s cool-kid expectations. That said, many of the 21 Jump Street supporting players ultimately devolve into caricatures by the end of the film and are forced into dramatic shifts that aren’t particularly developed or earned through preceding scene work. These shifts don’t detract from the comedy, and it’s certainly possible they were an intentional attempt at rousing 80′s movie tropes, but they undermine opportunities to have done something more nuanced with the anti-stereotypes the film has established. Once in awhile, it’s as if riffing on the TV source material is more important than delivering a fully-realized modern movie experience.

Similarly, the overarching plot of the film is about as thin as its remake inspiration – and would completely buckle under the weight of play-by-play analysis or scrutiny. Viewers looking for an intriguing undercover cop story should definitely look elsewhere, as – aside from reconnaissance work performed by Jenko and his new chemistry-loving friends – our officer leads don’t actually engage in particularly compelling police work; the focus of the film is clearly on crazy antics, not an intricate narcotics investigation. Regardless of the director pair’s intent, the finale (despite a lot of gunfire and explosions) may be somewhat underwhelming for anyone hoping to see an interesting pay off to the narcotics storyline. Not to mention, considering the undercover cop “reality” of 21 Jump Street, the finale also includes one of the most awkward “emotional” plot point resolutions in recent memory.

Ultimately, criticism of the 21 Jump Street story shouldn’t be taken as a denouncement of the 21 Jump Street experience – since the film delivers on its intended purpose to provide laugh-a-minute antics within the flimsy premise of the source material. However, much like their protagonists (who get overwhelmed by their undercover lives), it’s as if Lord and Miller got overwhelmed by their comedy gags, and lost sight of a few core fundamentals that make for a great modern day movie. Ultimately, they get the remake job done with tongue-in-cheek style and plenty of outrageous moments – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few slip-ups that could have offered an even better payoff.

If you’re still on the fence about 21 Jump Street, check out the trailer below:


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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.

21 Jump Street is rated R for for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. Cool… I’ll be sure to check it out.
    The trailer didn’t really appeal to me that much, so I doubt I’ll be seeing this on opening weekend though.

    • Same here. I’ll defiantly check this out during the next couple weeks but it’s not something I’ll rush to see.

      • Loved it! SO HILARIOUS! WISH I’d seen it at the theater but went to DVD too fast! Will buy it!

  2. Sounds great, I’ll probably check this out.

  3. Seeing it next Thursday!

  4. funniest movie iv seen so far this year it had me dien non stop laughter

    • What’s “dien?” Is that a number in German or something? lol

      • no its like you are about to die just add ing dieing…

  5. Unless there is a movie I’m forgetting this seems like the biggest surprise of 2012 (so far).
    I don’t remember anyone being overly enthusiastic or excited for this when word 1st came out that a Jump Street movie was on the way. I know I sure wasn’t. I probably even made comments saying it was a bad idea. But hey, I’m glad to hear I was wrong and I’ll try to find the time to check it out.

  6. im glad that you gave it four stars. but after reading your review it seemed like you wouldve only given it 3 or 3.5 stars at the most.

    • I tried to sum up my feelings here:

      “Ultimately, criticism of the 21 Jump Street story shouldn’t be taken as a denouncement of the 21 Jump Street experience – since the film delivers on its intended purpose to provide laugh-a-minute antics within the flimsy premise of the source material.”

      It’s not going to be for everyone but it makes good on its own promises – and delivers an overall fun experience. It’s not a 5/5, there are missed opportunities but it’s still a solid movie.

  7. It sounds like a great movie but any word of the rumored Johnny Depp cameo on the movie. I’m not asking for a spoiler but if there are any cameos from the actors of the former show.

    • Cameo confirmed!

      • one of the funniest cameos in film hisory, do u agree?

    • He had a cameo in Hugo as well. :-)

  8. Good news everyone, I’m glad to see that the Tatum Hill team up produced a good movie. I was rooting for this one

  9. I grew up on the t.v. show so I would’ve liked it if they stayed true the source material with some light comedy or comical moments. The Lethal Weapon Movies were able to do that very well while still being taken seriously. I’ll watch this version on t.v. too, I won’t be going to the theaters to see it.

  10. Hunh. Well, I’ll be.

  11. One really funny, outrageously funny, movie with a sweet side that gets to you. A wonderful surprise that I truly didn’t expect! Jenko and Schmidt (Tatum & Hill) are spectacular together!

  12. I loved this 21 Jump Street! Tatum and Hill were fantastic and I was busting up the whole time. Like Ben said Eric (Dave Franco) wasn’t developed and I wish we could have seen more heart from him. However it doesn’t change my opinion that this movie is a must see for anyone wanting a laugh.

  13. OMG!!!!!!this movie was great it us by far the best if 2012. , it had me laughing the whole time yet it had a good moral :) this is a movie deff worth of going to theaters twoce and then buying it!!! Everyone needs to see it

  14. this movie is really funny, i was laughing the whole time

  15. Well, it did have some funny parts but it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I’m just not sure why writers must include all these f-bombs; even one of the songs, song by Ice Cube, had all sorts of foul language.

    There were actually 3 cameos I saw (one was on the TV screen). 3/5 for me.

  16. Movie was dumb, and tried way too hard to be funny. It wasn’t. Save your cash.

  17. Wow, the trailer looks very different from what I thought the movie would be like! It looks very entertaining. I’ve usually enjoyed Jonah Hill’s performances on the big screen – he’s very funny. Will be interesting to see how it turns out!

  18. Overall i think 21 Jump Street is halerious it had a few dirt parts in the end but i likedit very well. i have never actually reviewed any thing because i am only 14 but i have noticed you all take this way to seriously… I think this should be about telling people if they will like it not the whole movie!

  19. What I found most surprising was how perfect the pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum was. It was almost as unusual as the casting in The Other Guys, but this one worked a hell of a lot better. Plus, 21 Jump Street was livlier and funnier throughout, and on those merits alone deserves the 4/5 rating it earned.

    I was also really impressed with Channing Tatum and how well he handled a comedic role, considering his previous work includes Step Up, Dear John and The Vow. He was more outstanding than Jonah Hill, mainly because he was playing outside of the arena he is accustomed to and our expectations of him were lower, while Hill is primed and natural in this genre.

    I have a tough time not believing that Hill had something to do with the whole high-school backdrop, allowing him to revisit old scenarios and recreate some of the fun from Superbad. It was Seth, trimmed down and permless, and as awkward as ever with women, still engaging in endless partying and heavy drinking all in an effort to fit in with the cool crowd. It seems a trend is developing for Hill, and it could threaten to type-cast him. He was pretty damn funny in the movie though, and that kind of praise he does deserve.

    The movie was as humourous as it was morally driven, exhibiting themes of partnership, trust and loyalty, and how defiance and betrayal can break (or threaten to break) a friendship. (similar in nature to 2004′s version of Starsky and Hutch).

    21 Jump Street proves that even comedies can have underlying messages and useful lessons for kids…violence, coarse language and intensively vulgar, inappropriately graphic, sexually explicit themes and dialogue aside.

    Oh, and Depp’s cameo is awesome. The way his character’s reappearance was written into the story is nothing short of genius.

  20. It’s actually a funny movie I would want to watch. Jonah Hill is typically funny but it gets interesting with Channing Tatum in a new light.

  21. This movie is great; if you are 12, stoned, failing 9th grade or otherwise mentally challenged. Not funny, not well-written, not interesting. If you are looking for an occasion to hang out with your 14 yo, then by all means this is the film for you. If you you are however looking for comedy, you’d be better served to watch old doritos commercials then waste your time with this one.

    • And what is a good comedy in your opinion? The Hangover?

    • I’m 16 and I found this comedy great. It was just a fun movie.


  23. This is just good natured fun…I liked it. Nice little tie into the original too, don’t expect to much and you won’t be disappointed