A movie based on the show 21 Jump Street? Dumb, right? Well, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller acknowledge that right out of the gate. In doing so, they’ve crafted a hilarious and whip-smart comedy with a big heart and mind. The duo didn’t make a series of a action movie references, but an actual action movie.

The Jump Street program, which remains the same concept as the original television series, has been resurrected due to a “lack of imagination.” Two of the young-looking cops chosen are Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), two wannabe badasses. Schmidt and Jenko were on opposite sides in high school: Schmidt was a juggling club loser who went through an Eminem phase, while Jenko was the popular jock.

A few years later, the dynamic has changed. Schmidt and Jenko become buddies to even out each other’s respective athletic or academic weaknesses. When they’re thrown back into high school to crackdown on a drug aptly called “Holy Fucking Shit,” their friendship gets tested.  Schmidt is no longer the outcast, and Jenko quickly realizes acting like an asshole isn’t exactly cool anymore.

As it was with Lord and Miller’s lovable Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, there’s a sweet and heartfelt coming-of-age story here. You actually come to care about Schmidt and Jenko. Lord and Miller don’t tell us they’re friends, they effectively show us. The idea of Jenko going from Schmidt’s bully to best buddy isn’t an easy idea to swallow on paper, but Tatum, Hill, Miller, Lord, and screenwriter Michael Bacall all make you believe they’re the truest of friends.

Plus, Lord and Miller manage to seamlessly blend the raunch and heart together. There’s a sturdy handle of tone. Even when the more chaotic third act comes and violence enters the picture, the directors know precisely how to pull back. There’s a moment (and you’ll know it) when shit gets real, and the production wisely keeps silliness from overshadowing reality after that.

The other night I was lucky enough to have another viewing of 21 Jump Street at SXSW, and it confirmed most of my initial thoughts on the film. Some of the narrative flaws do stick out on second viewing, but they’re more of afterthought problems. With the quick pacing, it’s difficult for them to become much of a bother. Despite the fact that Kate Erbland’s loud maniacal laugh drained out certain beats, every joke that was audible in the SXSW screening was a winner. From the big gags to the subtle visual jokes, 21 Jump Street is an all-around satisfying comedy.

The Upside: Tatum’s most attention-grabbing performance since A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints; the perfect pairing of Hill and Tatum; Ice Cube‘s angry black captain; Brie Larson’s lovely presence as Schmidt’s love interest; Korean Jesus; the most inspired use of doves since Mission Impossible: II

The Downside: Has a couple minutes of bloat, including the use of Ellie Kemper

On The Side: The Hot Fuzz comparison doesn’t fit.


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