Steve "Stove" Pulaski’s review published on Letterboxd:
We've come a long way in the field of satires, homages, and parodies, and I suppose that any hope for a straightforward, honest attempt at a film on the Fox show 21 Jump Street is out of the question. Sort of like how we'll probably never see a serious Sherlock Holmes film, since the current ones are very comedic and lack the sophisticated tone of the original shows. The new film, 21 Jump Street, is the R-rated, raucous take on a show that aired back in 1987. To modern audiences, that fact has little importance and is probably not even known. I'm sure some haven't realized why Johnny Depp shows up in a brief but charming cameo.
I never watched the program, but know a great deal about it. I can say that the film explores the topic a lot more, using tactics only allowed in an R-rated film. Car chases, explosions, drinking, smoking, and the excessive use of four-letter words to name a few. It's nice to see a decent adaptation of a TV show from many years ago. After watching the lukewarm, unnecessary Dukes of Hazzard, I needed the optimism and reassurance that a successful TV show adaptation can be made.
The film is centered on Morton Schmidt (Hill) and Greg Jenko (Tatum), who lived in completely different worlds in high school, with Schmidt being the stereotypical nerd and Jenko being the limelight-soaked jock. Eight years later, both have the same sort of personalities, but are both in a police academy. Schmidt excels in the writing portion of the academy, but flounders in his physical performance, and that's the direct opposite for Jenko. The two realize they can benefit each other in their slouching fields, and quickly become the friends they never thought they'd be.
They become officers, and live a life well below modesty, patrolling a rather quiet park on bicycles. After miserably failing their first arrest, their boss sends them to Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, who scores some of the film's biggest laughs), an angry, vicious leader who helps disguise young-looking cops into high-schoolers so they can hunt down illegal substances being sold in a school and "infiltrate the drugs and find the supply."
Schmidt and Jenko, perhaps, have too much fun with their new job and begin to break every rule possible, resulting in never ending camaraderie, chaos, and misunderstood circumstances. Despite this, the film has a way bigger heart than The Sitter, Hill's last film released in December, and Tatum handles his comedy debut very well, showing signs of a bright future in the area.
The buddy cop formula has been beaten into the ground, and there doesn't seem to be much material existing to freshen it. Thankfully, 21 Jump Street isn't indulgent, meaning it's not always in the state where it believes it's doing something unique, passionate, or original. It knows it exists in a world driven by two buddies and a formula, so it decides to have a little fun with its premise and its off-the-wall, implausible ideas. It has the ability to make fun of itself, while still occupying confidence; a rare, often challenging trait to excel at today, and probably an even more challenging thing to accomplish from a new screenwriter. It just so happens, this is the best buddy cop comedy I've seen in years. Better than The Other Guys, and a lot better than Kevin Smith's Cop Out. And that is because of Michael Bacall's hip, witty screenplay that evokes excitement and laughter charmingly and not forcefully.
Of course, 21 Jump Street doesn't find itself on the same level of some raunchy comedies, mainly Apatow's, like Knocked Up and Superbad. There is a bit too much of a focus on car chases, including one lengthy race at the end that sort of runs its course after a while. This is one of those cases where the action is coherently depicted, but the result is pretty conventional - despite the use of limousines. Even with that being said, 21 Jump Street is still a bag of bright satisfaction, with few weak spots. It's cheery, engaging, rarely becomes winded, and utilizes the functional blend of eventful debauchery with underlying sweetness and cheeriness. A lesson Project X should've learned and explored.
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle, and Ice Cube. Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller.