21 Jump Street Review: Jonah Hill Down-sizes As Coed Jail Bait Heartthrob
That perpetual big screen high school student, Superbad's Jonah Hill, returns to academia once again, but smaller weight-wise. And with a different sort of comical menace on his mind, for the raucously rude retro-rehash of 21 Jump Street.
And the new and not necessarily improved 21 Jump Street reprisal from the serious-minded 1980s hit TV series, takes its chances on substituting comedic time travel for action. Okay, well there is that mandatory lost and found genitalia joke that tends to define grossout these days, in the movie's hectic prom night chase scene resolution.
Jonah Hill has written himself into 21 Jump Street as down-sized buffoonish leading man and coed jail bait heartthrob, Schmidt. A bleached blonde bullied loser nerd in high school, Schmidt finds himself coincidentally teamed up as a post-grad LAPD police academy recruit with Jenko (Channing Tatum), a fellow classmate and bad boy hunk back in the day.
Tossed together by chance as partners, the reigning school nerd and nuisance respectively, bond by default. And after turning their first assignment as cops on bike patrol into a disaster crime scene, the bungling duo get redeployed to a long dormant drug detail. Which apparently warehouses police rejects, ordered to infiltrate as undercover pretend teens at a local high school. Where a new synthetic drug is rumored to be cooked up on a regular basis in the science lab.
And while Jenko imagines he can revive his high school cool, even if into denial about looking way too older than he should under the circumstances, Schmidt is hoping to grab at a chance for a teenage do-over. And relive his high school days without a repeat of those daily humiliations, when he admittedly only 'excelled in trying.'
The running joke conceived in 21 Jump Street by co-directors
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), along with Hill and co-screenwriter Michael Bacall (Project X), is that high school today is in no way what is used to be. Though placing geeks, eggheads and environmentalists front and center as the new most popular kids on campus much to jock Jenko's dismay, is more script by committee wishful thinking than anything else.
But the most pressing question at hand, is the split personality match-up of not just two disparate decades, but the comparative audience divide as well. That is, the older crowd along for the deja vu ride, and teen viewers who may not have an inkling about the original series.
In any case, less may amount to much more here in terms of a passing grade for this movie. And in large part an infusion of extra credit, courtesy of Ice Cube as a hilariously ranting cop in charge of operations. And a surprise undercover cameo in more ways than one, turning up just in time to steal the show.
2 1/2 stars
Prairie Miller is a NY multimedia journalist online, in print and on radio, and on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express. Read more reviews by Prairie Miller. Contact Prairie through NewsBlaze. Read more stories by Prairie Miller.
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