21 JUMP STREET
Now playing at Scotiabank
I am old enough to remember the television show 21 Jump Street. (Actually, I am old enough to have been in an episode of 21 Jump Street, when the production filmed a prom episode at my high school.)
But if you're under 30 and have never seen the TV show, it doesn't really matter. The series about baby-faced rookie cops going back undercover in high school was an attempt at serious cop drama. The feature film makes has no such aspirations, and plays the comedy as broadly and bizarrely as possible.
The film opens with the horror of one man's high school grad year. Sporting a Slim Shady peroxide 'do and train-track braces, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is a pariah to girls and a slow-moving target for bullies, including Jenko (Channing Tatum), an empty-headed jock.
Seven years later both men apply for the police academy. Schmidt aces the test, but can't pass the physical; Jenko is a star athlete, but can't make the grades. They become friends first out of necessity, later by choice, as they patrol the beat together as bike cops at a local park. Yet another screw-up lands the pair in front of foulmouthed Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), who runs the recently revived Jump Street undercover program.
The captain's biggest contribution to the script is a statement of the obvious, in a rant about "recycling sh** from the past and expecting us not to notice."
The boys are sent back to high school to bust a drug ring with a deadly new product. They roll into the parking lot in what they think is the coolest car ever-a '71 ½ Camaro-only to find that in 2012 it's all about eco fuel. And "one-strapping" your backpack? Nope. Might mess with your spinal alignment. There's a gay guy and no one cares; things have changed.
In a nice twist, the boys' IDs are switched, putting Jenko in with the science geeks and Schmidt among the cool crowd. Here it's not the tubby guy, but the meathead who's the heart of the story for a change. While Schmidt is becoming a popularity-crazed dick, Jenko-whether he's trying to memorize his Miranda rights or do a chemistry themed rap-is quietly trying to slough off his dumb-jock reputation and prove himself worthy. After a string of eyecandy roles, Tatum may be trying to do the same, and succeeds in spades. Hill and Tatum have an easy comic rapport that we wish we could see more of.
Hill and Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Project X) co-wrote the script, which is crammed with so many zippy one-liners and gags that some would inevitably stick. In fact, most of the jokes hit paydirt. The writers even inject humour into the requisite car chase scenes, when one vehicle after another refuses to blow up.
Punchy supporting performances by Brie Larson (as Schmidt's underage crush), Dave Franco as a drug dealer who recycles, Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper as Jenko's smitten Chemistry teacher. Some of the stars from the original TV show make an appearance, though you're best kept in the dark about that one.
The film needn't have strained so hard for an R rating-some of the gags could've been dialled down a bit and been just as potent-but the film scores top marks for consistent laughs and the buddy pairing that nobody saw coming.