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21 Jump Street

Chaotic and far-fetched yet funny enough to have audiences rolling in the aisles.
By Tom Glasson
March 18, 2012
By Tom Glasson
March 18, 2012

Most of us have at least one baby-faced friend: that eternally youthful chum forever being asked for ID and almost certainly secreting an ageing portrait of themselves in a dusty attic somewhere. While they're always good for a laugh, it doesn't matter how much these child-adults (or 'chadults', as no-one will ever call them) appear younger than they are; we'd scarcely consider them capable of doubling for a high-school kid. Hollywood, on the other hand, seems to do it all the time. Stockard Channing was 34 when she played the 17-year-old Rizzo in Grease, Shirley Henderson was 35 whilst playing the 15-year-old Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter, and Luke Perry was 117 when he began playing Dylan on 90210.

Even more implausible is the idea that actual teenagers might be duped by the pretence, yet that's precisely the thinking behind Jonah Hill's new movie, 21 Jump Street, based on the '80s TV series that famously launched Johnny Depp's career. Hill teams up with Channing Tatum to play police officers Schmidt and Jenko, two junior patrolmen sent undercover into a high school to dismantle a burgeoning drug ring. To the film's credit, it at least acknowledges the improbability of the premise, particularly in the case of the muscle-bound Tatum, to whom the sports coach says at one point, "Jesus when did you go through puberty? Like, at seven or something?"

Tatum is definitely the big surprise in this movie, with his first foray into comedy potentially revealing the ideal market for which his talents are best suited. Whilst it mightn't seem like a huge stretch for the guy to be playing an attractive but vacuous himbo, his timing is pleasantly spot-on and his 'jock-out-of-water' subplot is so endearing it quickly becomes the more engaging and amusing of the two. Hill, unsurprisingly, continues to play Hill: a socially awkward, slightly overweight and well-intentioned nerd who, courtesy of a hidden talent and a touch of serendipity, is suddenly propelled into the cool crowd. It's all very familiar, Superbad territory; however, the pairing with Tatum works unexpectedly well in this case and a fast-tracked sequel feels almost inevitable.

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose last film was the magnificent Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street combines improv-heavy surrealism with high-octane action and some seriously offensive language to create a film quite unlike anything else you're likely to see this year. The Judd Apatow-esque dialogue is understandably hit and miss; however, there are easily enough laugh-aloud moments (as well as one particularly clever cameo) to make this film more than worth your while.

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