Look at me with egg on my face. Nary a month ago I was joking around and publicly wondering, via Facebook of course, if I should even bother to wait for the release of 21 Jump Street, or should I go ahead and pencil it into my worst of the year list now. Well lo and behold, here I am weeks later in the midst of the introductory remarks of what will end of being a mostly positive review of the very same damn movie. Whouda thunk it? Obviously not me, that's for sure.
Now for those who may have been living under a rock in the late 1980's, and for today's disillusioned youth who strut about caring not a wit about anything that came before their own remembrance of existence, this movie is an adaptation of the TV show of the same name that ran from 1987 to 1991 and helped to spawn the career of a then-unknown actor by the now quite familiar name of Johnny Depp. The story then was about a group of youngish looking cops who would infiltrate high schools to bust various forms of criminalities. Eventually the show would move on to college infiltration once people began to realize, young or not, these guys looked about as much like high school kids as Stockard Channing and the late Jeff Conaway did in Grease. Silly and quite ridiculous (Depp still mocks the show to this day) 21 Jump Street was a mild hit, and in certain circles, a cult favourite (it also starred Peter DeLuise, son of Dom, and Holly Robinson Peete, then sans the Peete part) but has mostly been forgotten in the intervening years, save to bring up in order to mock it as Depp has when a naive interviewer dares to bring up said subject matter.
Now cut to 2012, and a pair of inexperienced, idiot new police recruits, played by buff bohunk Channing Tatum and recently thinned-out co-screenwriter (and Oscar nominee) Jonah Hill. After a botched arrest, they are sent off to a dilapidated church (the original show had their HQ in the same venue) and enrolled in the newly revived Jump Street program and the 31 year old Tatum and and 28 year old Hill's inept cops must now enter high school again to take down a drug ring. Granted, the characters are only supposed by seven years past graduation, but still. Of course this is just used as part of the obvious but yet quite funny joke. In grand meta fashion, there are more than a few satiric knocks to the old show and its inherent silliness, including the fact that neither of its stars could honestly pass for high schoolers. Perhaps we never get to the kind of satire found in the films of, say Edgar Wright, whose Hot Fuzz is a much grander and much funnier take on the whole action buddy cop genre, but what we do get is a solid, quite humourous comedy that rarely needs to fall back on any of the low brow, frat boy humour so prevalent in today's comic movie world. Okay, it falls back a few times, but even when it does it plays better than expected.
Perhaps if the original show had gone for laughs instead of the seriousness it parlayed even through its silliest moments (the show had a more accidental comedy going for it - especially after Depp got a career and bailed out, leaving us with a second or even third rate replacement in Richard Grieco) then perhaps, just perhaps it would have ended up looking much like this newer, brasher version. Now granted, I am not trying to argue that 21 Jump Street is one of the great works of film comedy (cause, funny as it may be, it just ain't Wilder or Allen, or even Sturges) but it is surprisingly hilarious, and both the timing and asides of Hill and the oft-unfairly maligned acting of Tatum (he is better than he even gives himself credit for) make for a good enough, and funny enough motion picture experience that I am forced to eat the proverbial crow and take back the awful, though reasonably predictable, things I said about the damn thing lo a month ago. Way to go guys. My bad, as the kids are saying these days.