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A peroxide-blonde boy trudges uncomfortably through the halls of his high school. Patterning himself after his idol, rapper Eminem, this young man is neither Slim nor Shady.  Morton Schmidt is one of those unfortunate teenagers for whom high school will mean semesters of hell until he finally graduates.  A brainiac who studies hard, but never had one requited romantic relationship and is the target of jokes by the schoolís popular, dumb jock.  Itís no small irony when Schmidt, the brainy nerd and Greg Jenko, the muscle-bound doof, meet again years later at the police academy and form an unlikely bond that allows each of their qualities to compensate for the otherís flaws.  Schmidt helps Jenko through his written exams and Jenko trains Schmidt to meet his physical requirements.  Neither one is exactly top of their class, but they become such a team that after earning their badges, theyíre posted together on bike patrol in the local park, never getting a chance to crack down on real bad guys.  Their idyllic assignment sees them doing nothing more perilous than arresting a pot smoker and even that goes terribly wrong.  Ready to chuck the pair off the force, their captain assigns the two bunglers to a mission where their youthful looks and stunted personalities stand a chance to be useful.  An old undercover program infiltrating drug activity in high schools is revived to stop the rise of a powerful new narcotic.  Will returning to high school so many years later prove even more hazardous for Schmidt and Jenko than uncovering the drug ring?

Less of a remake of Stephen J. Cannellís original television cop drama than a latter-day comedic continuation, 21 Jump Street is surprisingly fresh, clever and a lot of fun.  The filmmakers know full well their audience will contain cynics expecting a winking spoof or a warmed-over remake of the 1980s series and they meet that challenge head-on, not only surprising the doubters by embracing them but creating something so funny and well-executed that satisfies the entire audience, including those totally unfamiliar with the TV show.  Focusing more on the seriesí somewhat dubious premise of adult police officers being made to pass for high school teenagers, we get a lot of laughs from Jenko and Schmidt being totally out of touch with what todayís kids consider cool.  Suddenly, itís hip to study, be environmentally aware and politically correct.  Jenko is shocked to find himself the unpopular one, left to hang out with the nerds -- which are the only thing about high school that hasnít changed -- while Schmidt, doing all the things that were considered so uncool in his teen years, sails through the social strata, even gaining a jailbait love interest.  This reversal of fortunes causes friction between the two pals who still have a job to do other than try and pass their classes and plan their homecoming dates.  The original post-high school relationship between Schmidt and Jenko is endearingly written and gives substance to their later falling out.  One canít help but side with Jenko, whose brawn-over-brains approach to life has made him a fish out of water in this Bizarro-world version of high school.  We see the two cops early in the film, desperate to do Dirty Harry stuff although Schmidt can barely hold a gun and neither guy is particularly concerned about weapons safety.  Their loose cannon policing style provides more slapstick laughs as do wacky visuals like the appearance of ďKorean JesusĒ in the church that serves as the undercover teamís base of operations.  The offhand verbal gags hit their marks as well, including a hilarious meta moment when the cranky Jump Street captain scathingly puts down any skepticism from both the officers and the audience that this mission -- and thereby the movie itself -- is some kind of lame remake or regurgitation of the past.  Speaking of the past, there are plenty of affectionate homages and references to the original series in word, deed and personage.

As Schmidt and Jenko, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play off each other surprisingly well, with Tatum showing an unexpected flair for slapstick.  Hill gives Tatum the sympathetic role as the former BMoC who is out of his depth with this return to high school and miserable at his estrangement from his best friend.  Hill also brings in comedy pros like The Daily Showís Rob Riggle as a very enthusiastic phys ed coach, The Officeís Ellie Kemper plays a teacher who goes all Mary Kay Letourneau at the sight of the buff Jenko.  Dave Franco, who appeared in Superbad with Hill as well as a bunch of Funny or Die shorts is the leader of the cool kids the cops need to get in good with to track the drugs.  Being set in the world of high schoolers, raunchier humour is to be expected, but those laughs are balanced by the filmís sharp, thoughtful script, coupled with some freewheeling improv by its game-for-anything cast.

21 Jump Street is canny enough to know how to laugh with its subject, not at it, which lays a good foundation for its clever script.  The movie is a success and a lot of fun thanks to its fast-flying, off-the-cuff humor and affectionate regard for its 1980s television roots.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 8th, 2012

 

Click here for our Exclusive Interview with 21 Jump Street's directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord.

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

 

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