21 Jump Street review

Hill and Tatum are not too cool for school.

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Judging by the mixed fortuntes of The A-Team , The Dukes Of Hazzard and Miami Vice , playing the ’80s TV remake game is a dangerous one. So what hope for 21 Jump Street , a show remembered for giving Johnny Depp’s career an early boost?

Actually, more than you’d think. Not saddled with nostalgia-weighed expectations, this mix of buddy-buddy cop movie and high-school comedy is surprisingly fun-packed from start to finish. The brief flashback intro sets the tone.

While Jenko (Channing Tatum) is a typical meathead jock at school, Eminem-lookalike Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is about as popular as a bout of herpes, but when they meet at the police academy they become friends and partners.

A botched drugs bust then sees them re-assigned to 21 Jump Street, a Korean church-housed undercover op for youthful-looking officers, where the ballbusting Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) awaits.

Their mission is to go back to high school, covertly, and bring down the source of a new designer drug, HFS (Holy Fucking Shit), which is being dealt by eco-warrior pupil Eric (Dave Franco).

The sly twist comes when the boys find that school isn’t quite as they remember it. Suddenly, it’s cool to care and be tolerant – an attitude that bamboozles Jenko, who winds up hanging with the nerds from chemistry, while Schmidt is embraced by the cool kids, including fellow drama student Molly (Brie Larson).

With Hill on co-scripting duties with Scott Pilgrim scribe Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street was always going to live or die by its gags. Fortunately, it boasts that sweet-yet-dirty comedy that Hill revels in.

Choice moments include literally any shots of Hill dressed as Peter Pan for the school play and Jenko trying to remember his Miranda rights (“You have the right to be an attorney”). Pity the running gag about car chase-induced explosions fails to detonate – and the less said about the perfunctory action, the better.

Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ( Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs ) have no problem keeping it lewd and lovable, while Tatum similarly handles the comedy beat with ease. Packed with welcome faces – Ellie Kemper ( Bridesmaids ) plays a teacher lusting for Jenko’s eight-pack abs – fans of the original will also get the cameo they deserve (frankly, the least the producers could do).

Even with a blatant music cue, N.W.A.’s ‘straight outta compton’, nodding to Mr Cube, 21 Jump Street rarely milks its nostalgia. and maybe that’s the secret to a good remake.

Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.